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FY 2020 Budget Boost for NCI Increases Research Awards, Improves Paylines

, by NCI Director, Dr. Norman E. Sharpless

NCI Director Dr. Norman E. Sharpless

NCI Director, Dr. Norman E. Sharpless, provides the grantee community an update on what the passing and enactment of the December 20, 2019 appropriations bill means for NCI’s fiscal year 2020 budget. Furthermore, this blog highlights how NCI plans to use our budget increase of $297 million to extend current paylines, and update both our competing and noncompeting grants policies.

As many of you may already know, just a few weeks ago, on December 20, Congress and the President provided a big boost to cancer research with the passage and enactment of an appropriations bill providing the National Cancer Institute (NCI) with a budget increase of $297 million for fiscal year (FY) 2020. While the number of grant applications to NCI continues to rise, with this robust budget increase, we are extending our paylines and anticipate funding more than 125 additional competing awards in FY 2020 than we did in FY 2019.  

Congress also increased the overall NIH budget by $2.6 billion, the fifth year in a row of significant increases for NIH. We in the cancer community know that these investments pay huge dividends, as evidenced by the recent reports of historic declines in cancer mortality rates. 

To put this in perspective, the appropriations bill contains a 6.7% increase for NIH overall, which includes a 5% boost for NCI. 

We are profoundly grateful to the many champions of people with cancer and survivors, as well as supporters of cancer research in Congress, especially the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees who are primarily responsible for approving the NCI budget. NCI welcomes the budget increase as an opportunity to advance progress against cancer and to ensure that the oncology tools of tomorrow are more powerful than those we have today. 

Thanks to support like this from Congress over many years, the research that NCI funds has yielded important results that are contributing to steadily decreasing cancer mortality. Sustained support for NCI has led to new diagnostics, treatments, and prevention strategies. We have improved the ability to manage the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of cancer treatments, and more effectively monitor the prevalence of cancers and factors associated with cancer risk. 

NCI’s FY 2020 budget, covering the period of October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020, will allow us to build on these advances by funding new and promising cancer research. In particular, of the $297 million budget increase, NCI will devote more than $210 million to support extramural research and training opportunities at universities, medical centers, and other institutions throughout the United States. With these funds, NCI will increase grant paylines for FY 2020 and fully restore commitments to noncompeting grants, as I describe in more detail below.  

More Than 210 Million Dollar Budget Increase for Research and Training

Paylines and NCI Grant Funding Policies in FY 2020

In a previous NCI Bottom Line Blog post, Patrick McGarey, Associate Director for Finance and Legislation at NCI, shared details on NCI grant funding policies under the FY 2020 continuing resolutions (CR)

A CR is short-term legislation to keep the government operating until a final budget agreement is signed into law. With the legislation enacted December 20, NCI has a budget for the full year, and we can set aside the temporary policies we previously announced in favor of the grant funding policies that appear below.

Paying NCI Noncompeting Grants at 100%

Under our temporary grant policies for the CR, NCI was funding most non-competing grants at 90%. With our new budget in hand, NCI will now pay non-competing grants at 100%. And, as soon as possible, we will revise awards for any non-competing grants we issued since October 1, 2019, to the 100% level. Of note, last year we were only able to support non-competing grants at 97%, which is a hardship on cancer scientists. We are grateful to Congress for the strong support this year allowing us to fully fund non-competing awards.

NCI Competing Grants Policies

R01 Grants: The FY 2020 funding increase from Congress allows NCI to raise the payline for these highly-prized research awards to established and new investigators by 25%, moving from the 8th percentile for FY 2019 to the 10th percentile for FY 2020. This is the first time the NCI has been able to afford double-digit paylines since 2017.

Early Stage Investigators (ESIs): As I’ve made clear in the past, one of NCI’s priorities is developing and supporting the next generation of talented cancer researchers. To advance this priority, the NCI FY 2020 payline for ESI applications will be at the 15th percentile. And, in FY 2020, NCI will continue to convert the most meritorious ESI R01 applications into Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) (R37) awards, which provide the opportunity to extend funding for an additional 2 years of support beyond the initial award period.

R21 Grants: R21 grants provide support for the early and conceptual stages of developing an NCI research project and are typically funded for 2 years. The budget increase will allow NCI to raise the FY 2020 R21 payline to the 9th percentile, compared with the 7th percentile in FY 2019. 

You can find details about requirements for R01, ESIs, and R21 grants, as well as other grant mechanisms, on the NCI Grant Activity Codes/Mechanisms page.

The following table offers a comparison of the NCI paylines outlined above:

NCI Competing Grant Policies
Grant Type FY 2020 FY 2019
R01 Grants for Established & New Investigators 10th Percentile 8th Percentile
R01 Grants for Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) 15th Percentile 14th Percentile
R21 Exploratory / Developmental Grants 9th Percentile 7th Percentile

These are the major FY 2020 funding highlights. Other important updates to FY 2020 grants policies are available on the NCI website , where you can also access an archive of NCI grant policies for prior years

Please continue to follow the NCI Bottom Line Blog for other budget and policy developments that affect the NCI extramural community. 

Again, I’m particularly enthusiastic to kick off the new year with this exciting news. And, of course, I wish all our readers a happy and healthy 2020!

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Living in Budget Limbo Under a Continuing Resolution

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NCI Plans Policy Changes on Percent of Effort Required on Grants

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