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Are The Funding Rates For NIH Grants As Bad As Everyone Says They Are?

By Dr. Meg Bouvier

We stay current on NIH happenings and would be delighted to keep you informed.

It’s early January, which means we are in the thick of the Cycle I NIH grants. The #1 question we get asked by clients has to do with the percentage of grants getting funded. Lots of myths float around about funding lines. We can’t figure out where our clients come up with some of the draconian facts and figures we hear. So how bad is the funding situation at NIH, really?

The answer lies in my new favorite website:  The NIH RePORT Website ( It is a vast improvement over its predecessor, the CRISP system. You can’t believe how much great information resides on this site: strategic plans, budget and spending, fact sheets, tutorials, annual reports, funded organizations, funding by category, info on trainees, and on and on. This website ought to come with a warning label. Surfing it can eat up hours of your time.

Those who write NIH proposals will be familiar with the searchable database of funded research—simply enter your search terms (or any other pertinent information) and it promptly hands you a spreadsheet of all NIH-funded projects on that topic. You can see who is funded, their proposal title, funded organization, grant mechanism, dollar amount, and NIH funding institute. Click further and you get the abstract, project narrative, performance sites, PI contact info, start and end dates, etc. It is completely absorbing. Sort of like Facebook for science geeks.

But I digress. We were talking about funding lines. On the homepage there is an icon euphemistically called “success rates.” There you will find a spreadsheet in which NIH has kindly given us funding rates. Broken down by Institute and grant mechanism, they list number of applications reviewed, number of applications awarded, success rate (%) of reviewed applications, and total funding. So here, without further ado, are the funding percentages for the major R-series grants for some of the larger institutes for FY10:

NCI 19.39% 12.85% 11.12%
NHLBI 20.77% 0 14.18%
NIDCR 21.93% 27.66% 13.64%
NIDDK 27.02% 50.00% 13.98%
NINDS 24.00% 17.32% 15.10%
NIAID 21.04% 18.88% 21.09%
NICHD 17.32% 15.61% 10.14%
NIA 16.82% 7.51% 7.94%
NIAMS 23.60% 18.49% 15.65%
NHGRI 34.78% 22.73% 22.67%
NIBIB 20.35% 9.46% 11.85%
NIMH 25.17% 17.33% 16.39%
NIEHS 24.21% 25.46% 22.12%
NIDA 20.19% 20.00% 17.17%
NIAAA 22.33% 43.86% 25.26%

NOTE: Success rates are defined as the percentage of reviewed grant applications that receive funding. They are computed on a fiscal year basis and include applications that are peer reviewed and either scored or unscored by an Initial Review Group. Success rates are determined by dividing the number of competing applications funded by the sum of the total number of competing applications reviewed and the number of funded carryovers1. Applications having one or more amendments in the same fiscal year are only counted once.

Now before you start barraging me with emails, I will add the caveats—these numbers include all R01s at any given institute, and the funding lines are better for Early Stage Investigators than for other applicants but the scores are all averaged together here. Also the funding lines are different for each type of R01 within an Institute. And these numbers are for FY10 (October 1, 2009-September 30, 2010), which may bear no relation to the FY11 budget for each of these programs.

Regardless, these numbers are far better than the ones typically quoted to us by clients. If you still feel daunted by these funding rates, try to remember: If you don’t apply, your odds of funding are zero.

It pays to spend some time on the RePORT website. It can yield valuable information as you strategize about how to structure your research interests to fit the current funding trends. But be careful: If you start spending too much time on this website, your family and friends may be prompted to stage an intervention.

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