Letter from Dr. Stephen I. Katz regarding the NIH Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Program (Parent R21)

September 29, 2009

Dear Colleagues:

As you know, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) values a continuous flow of new concepts, techniques and approaches in biomedical research. One of the engines of this forward movement is the NIH Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Program (Parent R21).

NIAMS has evaluated different strategies—based on the experience of other NIH Institutes—to enhance its support of projects that resonate with this principle. With the endorsement of the NIAMS Advisory Council,1 NIAMS has recently changed its use of the R21 funding mechanism. In its funding decisions, the Institute will place higher priority on projects that:

  • Are innovative and ground-breaking, with potential for significant impact.
  • Involve novel technology or tool development and have the potential to accelerate research fields significantly.
  • Propose novel application of methods, technologies or conceptual approaches from outside biomedical science to a research problem in NIAMS mission areas.

Projects that will be considered a lower priority include:

  • Those designed specifically to develop preliminary data for longer-term projects in a well-established research area.
  • New investigator starter grants.
  • Pilot studies that do not exhibit a high degree of innovation.

All researchers submitting NIAMS R21 applications—including resubmitted applications—are strongly encouraged to contact their NIAMS Program Director to discuss whether their proposed projects are best suited for the R21 mechanism or another type of funding opportunity, such as the Research Project Grant (Parent R01).

NIAMS recommends that new investigators submit applications for the R01 Research Project Grant, because new investigators and early stage investigators receive special consideration in NIAMS funding decisions with this mechanism, but not with the R21 mechanism (see Revised New and Early Stage Investigator Policies). New investigators seeking support for pilot projects, which will likely lead to subsequent, individual R01 Research Project Grants, should consider submitting applications for the NIAMS Small Grant Program for New Investigators (R03).

We anticipate that this change will reinforce our focus on supporting innovative research through the R21 program and will lead to enhanced communication among investigators and Program Directors regarding available funding opportunities. We will evaluate the impact of this new approach over time.

Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health

1 For a summary of the discussion, see the minutes of the February 3, 2009 Advisory NIAMS Council meeting.