The funding outlook in the United States for the biological sciences in general, and for medical sciences in particular, is bleak. The last few years have been very challenging for the research community in the United States because a tight federal budget has significantly decreased the growth of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Indeed, success rates are currently in the single digits for some grant programs at the NIH and National Science Foundation (NSF), and programs funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are also in jeopardy. While the total number of applications has significantly increased since fiscal year (FY) 2002, success rate, total number of grants awarded, and total dollars committed to research have dropped steadily – and the decline was precipitous in 2005.
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Explore This IssueOctober 2007
This year, NIH will likely not receive any increases in funds, resulting in a cumulative loss of purchasing power of 8.3% since 2004. While national defense spending has reached close to $1,600 per capita, federal spending for biomedical research amounts to approximately $97 per capita. The scientific community in the United States depends on federal funds to perform research. Indeed, it has been mostly federal funding for biomedical research that has fueled discoveries leading to significant advances in the understanding of human disease and the development of effective diagnostic tools and therapies.
An area of great concern is the individual researcher grants, called RO1s. A majority of important biomedical science discoveries in the United States have come from independent investigator laboratories funded by RO1s. The cost of interrupting support to an independent laboratory can be substantial. Currently, nearly 75% of researchers who apply for NIH RO1 funding do not succeed. In 2005, 27.6% of applications received funding, down from 35% in 2000. RO1 applicants are allowed to submit a specific application up to three times. Each time a rejected application is revised, it delays the time required before support can be approved and research initiated by close to a year. Because the grant application process is slow and uncertain, it often leads otherwise promising and successful investigators to re-evaluate and change careers. It can also result in the dissolution of teams of highly trained personnel.
For new submissions, an overall success rate of 9% was calculated for FY 2005. Further, the budget for existing grants was cut by 2.35% in 2006 to free up money for new grants and grants competing for renewal. Some funded grants were required to cut administrative costs by 20%. It becomes very difficult, if not impossible, for peer review to discriminate among applications and accurately select only one of 11 for funding. Grants are not only more difficult to obtain now, but also more difficult to renew. While FY 2006 data are not yet available, a trend toward further diminished RO1 support is evident because the total NIH allocation was less than the biomedical inflation index.