New investigators are those who previously have not been principal investigators on an NIH grant.* They are critical to medical research as they replenish the researcher pool and seed it with new ideas and approaches. NIH originally set up the FIRST award for newly independent investigators with the intent of assisting them to initiate their own research and demonstrate its merit. It provided a five-year period of research support , during or after which investigators could apply for traditional types of NIH research project grants, particularly R01s.
Since 1986, a significant number of investigators have applied for R29 support, although most new investigators applied for R01 funding. R29 applicants have had a somewhat better success rate than new applicants for R01s. However, when subsequently applying for renewal of R01 funding, applicants who received R29 funding as their initial method of support are less successful than new applicants who received an R01.
NIH's new policy was adopted after an analysis by the Working Group on New Investigators. The Working Group concluded that while new investigators applying for either R01 or R29 funding are similar, they are subject to an artificial division of applicants which leads them to grant support mechanisms—either the R01 or R29— with several differences. These differences include review criteria, requirement for letters of support, dollar and time limitations, and percentage of time required of the new investigators. Some of these differences can penalize the R29 applicant; the most significant is the dollar limitation of the R29—$350,000 over a five year period, with no single year exceeding $100,000. By having all new investigators meet the same R01 requirements, NIH will eliminate these differences. There is no set time limit, proportion of salary, or dollar cap attached to R01 grants. Letters of support are not needed.
The scientific peer review process is important to all applicants, but especially so to new investigators who are typically less experienced in the preparation of applications and expression of their research plans. To ensure a fair review for new investigators, NIH staff will make use of the winter 1997-1998 round of study section and Advisory Council meetings to fully explain the change in policy and to establish procedures and application forms to ensure that reviewers can clearly identify those applications that are submitted by new investigators.
In FY 1997, NIH supported 1, 466 new investigators with R01 or R29 awards. To stabilize the number of new investigators entering the research system, NIH will commit to supporting the same number of new investigators in FY 1998, and will meet an increased funding level as necessary. This will help NIH meet the goal of ensuring that new investigators receive sufficient resources to sustain their research programs while maintaining the same influx of investigators in order to promote a healthy medical research system in the future.
*Applicants may have previously had NIH support on training grants, fellowships, most K awards, R03, R21 or R15 mechanisms, but not as principal investigators on regular research grants such us R01, P01 or Center grants. Details are provided in the November 21, 1997, NIH Guide Notice, Vol. 26, No. 38.