New Webinar: NIH Submission Strategies — Register Now!

You have a cool idea for a research project, now what? The second in my new webinar series addresses NIH Submission Strategies. As a person who works on NIH submissions full time, I know there are certain steps you can take before you write a single word that correlate with better scores and outcomes.

Some of these steps include the following: taking the time to understand the priorities of the stakeholders involved, including reading Appropriations Reports; learning which projects are already in the NIH funding portfolio to ascertain how you might adjust your idea to fit in; identifying multiple ICs (not just an obvious one) and shopping around different versions of your Specific Aims to gauge enthusiasm; building a relationship with the all-important Program Officer, who will help guide questions related to study design, FOA, ESI status, and study section; and understanding the review process and audience before you write.

Your team will invest hundreds of hours in your submission. Why not spend 90 minutes learning some tried-and-true strategies to use before you write that will optimize your chance of success? I probably work on more NIH submissions in a month than you will work on across your entire career. I’ve helped clients land over $200 million in federal funds, and I can help strengthen your submission and improve your grantsmanship as well.

REGISTER FOR ALL 3 WEBINARS AND SAVE!
Bundle with two more webinars and save! Three webinars for $499.

Read about all three webinars, including “Mistakes Commonly Made on NIH Grant Applications” and “How To Write The Specific Aims.”

NIH Submission Strategies

Who: Essential for grantees planning to submit an R01, R21, or R03 in an upcoming cycle, and the senior faculty and administrators who advise them.
When: Wednesday 11 February 2015, 11am-12:30pm EST or
Thursday 19 February 2015, 11am-12:30pm EST
Cost: $199; Or register for all three webinars this month for $499
Takeaways: At the end of this 90-minute session, participants will be able to:

1. Utilize the Reporter website to identify their niche in the funding portfolio
2. Identify likely ICs, POs, and FOAs
3. Write several drafts of their Aims to send to POs
4. Choose the most appropriate IC, FOA, and study section with PO guidance

REGISTER NOW!

The Importance of the “Approach” Criterion On NIH Grant Scores

Sally Rockey, Deputy Director of Extramural Research at NIH, posted data on her blog concerning reviewer behavior on proposals reviewed in 2010. Recall that with the new NIH grant format, NIH implemented scores of one to five (lower is better) in each of five categories: Significance, Innovation, Approach, Investigators, and Environment, as well as the overall impact score. Of 54,727 applications reviewed in FY10, 32,546 were discussed and received overall impact scores. The NIH generated some data on these scores. Among their findings:

*While reviewers used the full scoring range (one through five) for each of the five review categories, their scores were distributed more widely for the Approach category.

*Criterion scores are moderately correlated with each other and with the overall impact score.

*Of the five scoring categories, the one best able to predict the overall impact score was the Approach section (followed by significance, innovation, investigators, environment.)

The language surrounding the changes to the NIH grant format in Zerhouni’s efforts to enhance peer review stressed the importance of Impact, Significance, and Innovation. And in the new format, the length of the Research Strategies was halved, forcing grantees to compress “Approach” sections such as the exhaustive literature review and the detailed methodologies. However, from the data in Rockey’s blog post, we might surmise that reviewers still heavily weigh the Approach category. And based on my own experience with pink sheets in the new format, reviewers’ nearly-insatiable desire for preliminary data appears to continue unabated, despite the reduced page limits on proposals.

Multiple Regression To Predict Impact Scores Using Criterion Scores

Criterion Regression Weight
Approach

6.7

Significance

3.3

Innovation

1.4

Investigator

1.3

Environment

-0.1

Design Your Translational Research Project With Patients In Mind

When designing a translational research project, be sure to target the end-user or end-market right from the first basic science experiments. This suggestion seems obvious. Yet time and again I see draft proposals that don’t accomplish this task, or pink sheets that complain a project misses the mark. Here are examples of how to achieve this goal from proposals I have worked on over the past few months:

*Enlist a physician as a consultant. Not a physician-scientist, but an M.D. who regularly treats the patient population you hope will benefit from your work. I recently worked on a polymer science grant that sought to create better cardiac stents—the Program Officer wisely suggested that a physician be added as consultant, given that the PIs were bench scientists. If you already have a physician on the proposal, make sure s/he emphasizes in the personal statement of the biosketch that s/he regularly sees the intended audience for the work being performed. Which leads me to the next point:

*Make sure you know what the patients want and need. According to one of my clients, researchers once thought that what quadriplegics wanted most was the ability to walk, therefore lots of money was devoted to that subject area. But when these patients are surveyed, it turns out that what they miss the most is the use of their hands. Before you design a bench project whose ultimate goal is to ease human suffering, make sure you know from what the patient suffers. If you can’t easily ascertain the main quality of life issues for that patient population, at least determine national healthcare costs that would be alleviated if your research findings informed clinical approaches.

*Keep the cost down. You could design the niftiest gizmo in the world that accomplishes precisely what you (and the patient population) want it to do. But if it is cost-prohibitive to produce, it will never see the light of day. Assure reviewers right from the design phase of your project that cost will be at the forefront of your mind as you proceed through your research. Whenever possible, point out where your device could interface with existing technology (ex- Bluetooth, cell phones, PCs). I work on a lot of NIH proposals where folks are trying to develop some sort of device, anything from activity monitors to robotic surgery gadgets. If you don’t confront the issue of cost from the very first design (yes, even in an R21) then you are almost certain to see that comment on your pink sheets.

*Bring on board a collaborator who has experience with regulatory approval. If you hope to move toward marketing a product, assure reviewers that someone on your team has some clue how to navigate the labyrinthine FDA approval process. If you have no such person, find one.

*Your goal is to help patients, not market a product. Remember that when writing an NIH proposal, you are asking for taxpayer dollars to fund your research, and therefore your work ought to benefit taxpayers. I am working on a diabetes grant for a for-profit company right now, and one suggestion I made was to state that the end goal is to help patients, not market their product. Perhaps it seems like a subtle language shift, but it will play better at review.

I could probably come up with other suggestions but I have finished my coffee and huevos rancheros and need to get back to work. So here’s the take-home message: Assure reviewers that from the very first experiment, your translational research project is aimed directly at the clinical end-users. More-than-the-usual concern prevails on the NIH campus right now that promising bench science is lying fallow, never being developed to the point where it will benefit patients (who, after all, paid for the research through their tax dollars). If you are on the bench side of the bench-to-bedside equation, make sure reviewers know that you are keenly aware of the clinical target and that you are not just a smart person in a white lab coat incapable of thinking beyond your cool idea.