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Welcome to NCI Bottom Line: A Blog about Grants and More!

, by NCI Staff

Douglas R. Lowy, M.D.

NCI Acting Director

Credit: National Cancer Institute

For this inaugural blog post, NCI Bottom Line editors spoke with NCI Acting Director, Dr. Douglas R. Lowy, about why NCI is launching a new blog on everything you ever wanted to know about grants and how NCI funds its grants portfolio.  In this Q&A, Dr. Lowy shares his vision for keeping the extramural community informed and engaged on NCI grants and funding policies.

Bottom Line: NCI already has a number of blogs, including its enterprise blog, Cancer Currents. How is this blog different?
Dr. Doug Lowy: Funding and budgets are rarely simple to explain or understand. With that in mind, NCI is launching Bottom Line to bring more clarity to these topics. Bottom Line’s goal is to be transparent about the fiscal landscape and the opportunities and challenges it presents to NCI and our grantees. While blogs like Cancer Currents will continue to present diverse topics to a broad cancer research audience, Bottom Line will delve more deeply into areas such as NCI’s grants policy and processes, funding decisions, and budget issues related to grants.

BL: So, NCI Bottom Line is intended for a more specific audience? 

DL: Yes. While anyone can certainly access the content, we are gearing Bottom Line specifically towards NCI early-stage and established investigators, and others in our broad research community, such as cancer centers, academic institutions, and cancer advocates. We expect the blog will be of greatest interest to current and prospective researchers seeking insights about NCI’s future plans on grants funding and grants policies. Each year, NCI obligates most of its budget – more than 60% – to fund extramural grants, which include awards for Research Project Grants (RPGs), Career Development (K) awards, and National Research Service Award (NRSA) training grants. As such, we have the potential for a very large audience for this blog!

BL: What topics will NCI Bottom Line address?

DL: Throughout the year, the blog will address a wide range of topics, such as budget- and funding-related milestones, funding trends and patterns, emerging policy or fiscal issues, and analysis of our grants portfolio. The topics we present in the blog will come from a variety of sources including questions we receive from the research community and suggestions from NCI leadership based on things they hear from grantees.  We definitely want to hear from readers about the topics that interest them or the policies we need to clarify. 

BL: Can you be more specific about the kinds of issues this forum will cover?

Sure, let me give you a real-world example that readers of this blog may appreciate. Earlier this fiscal year, NCI had to make some difficult decisions about our payline for new grant awards and the level of funding available for continuing grants. We faced this budget challenge primarily because our ability to increase the number of awards has not kept pace with the dramatic increase in grant applications to NCI over the past few years. Below are two graphs that I presented to our advisory committee, the National Cancer Advisory Board, on September 4. 

Graph showing applications vs. budgets for NCI & RPGs

Competing R01 applications vs. NCI budgets: Percent change since FY 2013

Credit: NCI

Success Rates for NIH & NCI Grant Applications Data include all RPGs, including SBIR/STTR

Credit: NCI

The first graph, in addition to illustrating the much larger increase in grant applications that NCI has received since 2014 compared with the growth of our budget, shows that the number of applications continued to increase in 2019, but at a slower rate. The second graph displays the 20-year trend of the success rate for all applications NCI received compared to success rates across NIH. First, it shows that our success rate has been lower than the NIH-wide rate every year.  Second, it shows that while the NIH-wide success rate has been increasing in the most recent years, thanks to progressive increases in the NIH budget, ours has gone in the opposite direction. 

This is the type of content that my NCI colleagues and I want to share with the extramural community through the NCI Bottom Line Blog.  I hope readers will find information like this interesting and useful!

BL: How often will you publish new posts to NCI Bottom Line?

: We expect to post a new Bottom Line once or twice a month, depending on the specific need or issue. Because of the diversity of topics we hope to cover, our readers will hear from a variety of NCI leaders in future posts – colleagues in grants administration, financial management, and budget, to name a few key areas. Our goal is for Bottom Line to supplement and amplify the many ways that NCI is already communicating and engaging with the extramural community. All current NCI grantees have been added as subscribers to the blog. We hope you enjoy this blog and continue to stay on the list, though you can unsubscribe at any time. We also welcome others to subscribe to receive notifications of new blog posts.

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