National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
January 26, 2010 • Volume 7 / Number 2

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Guest Director's Update

Major Grant Application Changes Now in Effect

Dr. Paulette Gray Dr. Paulette Gray

The new year is beginning with a very important change for investigators intending to apply for grant dollars from NIH to support their research. As of January 25, the NIH grants application process will undergo the most significant changes to date with newly restructured and shortened application forms.

These changes are the result of a comprehensive effort, the Enhancing Peer Review Initiative, which began in 2007 with an in-depth evaluation of the current peer review system. A year-long diagnostic phase and the publication of a final report preceded the release of a Peer Review Enhancements and Implementation Plan in June 2008. Recommendations that have already been phased in include: changes in new and early investigator policies; one resubmission limit; enhanced review criteria; and a new scoring system. The final major recommendations being implemented this month are changes in the NIH grant applications new instructions: significantly shorter page limits and restructured forms. The chief aim of these changes is to better align the structure and content of the grant applications with review criteria and to improve the efficiency and transparency of the review process.

Each of the key changes offers tangible benefits to all who have a stake in the applications process. Reducing page limits for competing applications, for example, will help to lower the administrative burden for applicants, reviewers, and staff. This change will focus applicants and reviewers on the essentials of the science that are needed for a fair and comprehensive review of the application. Shorter applications may have additional benefits for reviewers by avoiding information overload and enabling a larger number of reviewers to read each application and participate in review in a more informed manner. 

NIH is also restructuring the applications by aligning the structure and content with the new enhanced peer review criteria released in December 2008 (NOT-OD-09-025). For example, the new application format has a Research Strategy Section that includes defined subsections addressing significance, approach, and innovations, three of the five review criteria. In addition, the enhanced biographical sketch includes a personal statement describing the experience and qualifications that make the participants particularly suited for their role in the project. These changes will focus applicants and reviewers on the same elements and help ensure a more efficient and transparent review process.

Applications for due dates on or after January 25, 2010, require the restructured forms. Applicants should go to the reissued Program Announcements and updated Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) to download new applications and instructions. Applicants must be careful to select the correct SF424 (R&R) electronic forms or PHS398 paper forms, if applicable. The changes apply to all competing applications: new, renewal, resubmission, and revision.

For submissions in January, a reminder in the electronic application submission process will trigger whenever an electronic application is submitted using the old application forms after the first week of January 2010. The warning will remind applicants of the new requirements.

NIH and NCI leadership are confident that this is a significant step forward in terms of the efficiency and transparency of the grant review process.

For more information, please see the Enhancing Peer Review site for the NIH Guide announcement NOT-OD-09-149, new Frequently Asked Questions, and a video overview of the changes, or visit the NCI Division of Extramural Activities (DEA) at

Dr. Paulette S. Gray
Director, NCI Division of Extramural Activities

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