The late nights, the writer’s block, the last harried review of all of the components is finished. The initial grant application, or maybe the revised application, has been submitted and reviewed and now you get to wait on pins and needles to find out if you might actually get funded. You polished everything up, the writing is tight, the hypothesis is sound, but what are the actual numbers related to funding statistics?
Many foundations publish limited information on their funding statistics, while some others are rather forthcoming. For example, the American Heart Association relays the yearly success percentage for funding in each of its programs, where the success rates generally run between 15 to 20% of submitted applications. This isn’t true for all private foundations.
When it comes to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), on the other hand, there is a wealth of data available related to success rates in funding for all of their different grant vehicles. Data and an array of statistics on grant funding are broken down by Institute and Center (IC), by new application versus competing renewal, and many other metrics, all of which can be found in the NIH Data Book. In 2020, the NIH received a total appropriation of $41.6 billion, and of this amount, $30.8 billion was awarded for all competing and non-competing extramural research programs. This represents the monies that were distributed through the awarding of 56,169 grants. At the institute level as an example, according to data from 2018, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) funded 11.3% of Research Project applications while the National Eye Institute (NEI) had a success rate of 26.7%. Not surprisingly, the NCI received almost 10 times the number of grant applications as did the NEI. However, given the intense conversation that usually surrounds writing and getting NIH grants, many investigators are surprised to find out that overall, there has been an increase in the total number of grants funded by NIH over the last 10 years.
There are other factors that can influence the chances of getting funded through NIH, that are not actually related to your grant subject matter. The most recently developed NIH program is focused on helping new and early-stage investigators (ESI) to get their first RO1 grant. If you applied as PI without having previously received funding as PI and are within 10 years since receiving your terminal degree, you qualify as an ESI. The advantages to this designation are many, but most importantly many Institutes and Centers at NIH prioritize the funding of grants for ESI PI’s. For New Investigators (never previously funded) and the ESI subset, both receive more favorable payline considerations in getting funded. In addition, study sections typically consider these grants written by new or ESI PI’s separately from the other grants they are reviewing and try to provide the summary sheets more quickly. Aside from these, other grants for newer Investigators from the Office of the Director are available including the NIH Director's New Innovator Award as well as the NIH Director's Early Independence Award.
Overall, getting NIH funding can be difficult, but is not impossible, and it is more likely to be successful if you strongly focus your grant and tell a sound, compelling story.
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