Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Home Back Issues No. 58: Do Any NIH Grants Run Longer Than Four or Five Years; Can I Apply for Them?

Jan 03

No. 58: Do Any NIH Grants Run Longer Than Four or Five Years; Can I Apply for Them?

Posted by: PIA in

Tagged in: Untagged 

Sponsored Message

Sign Up to receive free weekly articles like these


Do Any NIH Grants Run Longer Than Four or Five Years; Can I Apply for Them?

Reader Question: I've been fortunate enough to obtain a series of two- or three-year grants to keep my cancer research going, but it's getting harder in this funding climate. To lessen the constant scramble, I'd like to find a grant of longer duration. Are such available? If so, how would I apply and optimize my chances? Is the MERIT award related to this?

Expert Comments:

It is essentially standardized practice for all PIs writing an R01 or R01-equivalent grant application to craft a five-year research plan along with appropriate budget justification for that period. But most of the time reviewers are reluctant to recommend more than four years of funding.

Additionally, even when the study section recommends the full five years, either council review or program administrators can cut the award to four years. This is likely to become more prevalent in today’s tight budget climate as institutes address the challenge of keeping the biomedical research enterprise from collapsing.

Thus, the four-year award appears to be the norm for NIH. (Most NSF awards, in contrast, are only for three years.)

There are, however, two important exceptions:

  • The first and most common is the five-year award granted to some first-time investigators; these PIs are considered to be truly in need of that crucial extra year in order to get their research programs started.

  • The other, far less common, exception is the one to which you refer in your question — the NIH MERIT Award. MERIT stands for “Method to Extend Research in Time.”

MERIT awards have these important features that distinguish them from the R01:

  • First, you cannot apply for a MERIT award as a PI. Instead, most institutes will offer MERIT awards to a very limited number of exceptional PIs whose RO1s achieve stellar scores.

  • Unlike a standard R01, the MERIT award allows a project with the standard four to five years to be extended for a second four to five years. Approximately 15 months before the end of the initial grant term, the PI sends in a progress report and a one-page abstract that summarizes the aims for the new period. This "expedited review" is performed in lieu of the standard competing renewal. Provided that progress has been strong, the institute is likely to approve the work for another five-year interval.

Sponsored Message

Thus, with a MERIT award, a PI has nearly a decade of support from a single funding source, allowing really transformational research to be performed. Owing to the fact that institutes sparingly make MERIT awards (in the range of less than 5 percent of the R01s awarded in a given year), the eligibility criteria are exceedingly stringent.

In order to be considered, a PI must have 10 years of previous NIH support (typically from that institute) and have compiled a truly outstanding record of accomplishment, including groundbreaking discoveries and publications, international awards and plenary lectures and often grant scores from previous submissions in the single-percentile figures.

These criteria help convince the institute that the pace of discovery will be maintained or even increased during the period of the MERIT award.

In summary, the long duration of the MERIT award provides one of the few mechanisms available in the United States whereby a PI can garner special support for projects that may take up to a decade to complete. While you can’t apply for one, you can work assiduously to develop a track record of truly exceptional scientific accomplishment, and hope that, someday, the institute director rings you up with the news of such an award.

Expert comments by Christopher Francklyn, PhD, a veteran reviewer for NSF and NIH and served as an NIH study section chair. He is a professor at the University of Vermont, where his scientific expertise is in protein synthesis and RNA-protein interactions. He is also assistant editor of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Dr. Francklyn has a monthly column in Principal Investigator Advisor focusing on the study section review process for NIH & NSF. Read his full article "5 Common Mistakes That Will Sink Your Grant".

Comments (0)

Write comment
smaller | bigger

Write the displayed characters