Bioethics Blogs

Formula for Innovation: People + Ideas + Time

Collage of scientists, clinical research, and science imagesIn these times of tight budgets and rapidly evolving science, we must consider new ways to invest biomedical research dollars to achieve maximum impact—to turn scientific discoveries into better health as swiftly as possible. We do this by thinking strategically about the areas of research that we support, as well as the process by which we fund that research.

Historically, most NIH-funded grants have been “project-based,” which means that their applications have clearly delineated aims for what will be accomplished during a defined project period. These research project grants typically last three to five years and vary in award amount. For example, the average annual direct cost of the R01 grant—the gold standard of NIH funding—was around $282,000 in FY 2013, with an average duration of about 4.3 years.

We often hear from investigators at all career stages that they spend a significant portion of their careers writing grant applications, consuming precious time that could otherwise be spent conducting research. This grant-writing treadmill is fueled by several factors: fierce competition for limited research dollars, made worse by the current funding situation, which has caused success rates to fall to historic lows; the need to support multiple research projects in a productive laboratory; and desires to pursue new research directions when opportunities arise.

To meet the changing needs of the biomedical workforce, NIH is piloting the concept of awarding longer grants that provide more stable support for investigators at all career stages. It is our hope that with more sustained support, investigators will have more freedom to innovate and explore new lines of inquiry.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.