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Request for Information: NIH System to Support Biomedical and Behavioral Research and Peer Review

Notice Number: NOT-OD-07-074

Response Date: August 17, 2007 at 5:00 PM EST

The NIH is seeking comments regarding NIH’s support of the biomedical and behavioral research, including peer review, with the goal of examining the current system to optimize its efficiency and effectiveness. The NIH is especially interested in creative suggestions, even if they involve radical changes to the current approach.

The NIH enjoys a longstanding history of supporting the most promising and meritorious biomedical and behavioral research using a broad range of approaches, strategies and mechanisms. A cornerstone of the system employed by NIH to support biomedical and behavioral research is the two-tiered peer review process. The first tier of the selection process is a rigorous peer review system that evaluates and rates the scientific and technical merit of the proposed research. The second tier of review is conducted by the NIH National Advisory Councils. These Councils are composed of scientists from the extramural research community and public representatives, and they ensure that the NIH receives advice from a cross-section of the US population in the process of its deliberation and decisions. The second tier of review does not reassess the scientific rating the application receives in the first level of review; rather, it considers applications in the context of Institute or Center program priorities and portfolio balance, to provide funding recommendations to the NIH Institute or Center director. Together, these two tiers of review inform NIH funding decisions.

NIH recognizes that the biomedical and behavioral science enterprise has grown increasingly complex, in part, related to the remarkable advances in science. Continued analysis of the entire system employed by NIH to support biomedical and behavioral research is required to ensure that NIH will continue to meet the needs of the biomedical and behavioral research community and the public-at-large.

NIH has formed a Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (http://www.nih.gov/about/director/acd/index.htm) to gather information from the external community and explore possible enhancements to all aspects of the system used by NIH to support biomedical and behavioral science, including the two-tiered review process. The Working Group is asking for your opinion on how NIH can best meet the challenges of supporting science in the 21st century in the face of an increased load on the peer review system resulting from a steady rise in applications and the increased complexity of biomedical and behavioral science. Ultimately, NIH wants to ensure that the most meritorious science is supported while minimizing bureaucratic burden on applicants and the NIH itself.

The efforts of this Working Group will complement ongoing Center for Scientific Review (CSR) activities designed to streamline and improve the efficiency of the current peer review system, including shortening the review cycle and the length of applications, as well as enhancing the use of electronic reviews (for more information, please see http://cms.csr.nih.gov/AboutCSR/CSRInitatives.htm ).

Information Requested
NIH and the Working Group welcome your comments on these CSR’s current activities; however, we would particularly like your opinion, as a reviewer, applicant, or member of the public, on how to enhance the system employed by NIH to support biomedical and behavioral research, including the peer review process. The NIH is especially interested in creative, concrete suggestions to the following questions, for strengthening over the long term any and all aspects of our system for identifying the most meritorious and innovative research for support:

    1. Challenges of NIH System of Research Support
      Please describe any specific challenges presented by NIH’s support of biomedical and behavioral research such as the current array of grant mechanisms, number of grants awarded per investigator, and the duration of grants.
    2. Challenges of NIH Peer Review Process
      Please describe any specific challenges presented by the current peer review process at NIH.
    3. Solutions to Challenges
      Please concisely describe specific approaches or concepts that would address any of the above challenges, even if it involves a radical change to the current approach.
    4. Core Values of NIH Peer Review Process
      Please describe the core values of NIH peer review that must be maintained or enhanced.
    5. Peer Review Criteria and Scoring
      Are the appropriate criteria (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-05-002.html) and scoring procedures (http://cms.csr.nih.gov/NR/rdonlyres/B2CFE17E-AA1C-46E5-BADB-FDBF2FBBEE80/11892/CSRScoringProcedure090706.pdf) being used by NIH to evaluate applications during peer review? If not, are there changes in either that you would recommend?
    6. Career Pathways
      Is the current peer review process for investigators at specific stages in their career appropriate? If not, what changes would you recommend?

How to Submit a Response
Responses will be accepted until August 17, 2007 through the following Web site http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfi_files/rfi_peer_review_add.htm and e-mail address PeerReviewRFI@mail.nih.gov. The form will limit the length of each response to the number of characters identified.

The collected information will be analyzed and may appear in reports. Although the NIH will try to protect against the release of identifying information there is no guarantee of confidentiality.

A summary of the results obtained from the responses to this RFI will be available to the public on the NIH Peer Review website http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov.

Complete Notice:  http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-07-074.html