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Funding from Congress Allows NCI to Raise Grants Payline

, by Dr. Norman E. Sharpless

NCI Director Dr. Norman E. Sharpless

Credit: National Institutes of Health

In a follow-up to his most recent NCI Bottom Line blog post on November 3, 2020, Dr. Sharpless expands on the opportunities created by NCI’s $120 million budget increase for FY 2021 for Established and Early-Stage Investigators. Additionally, Dr. Sharpless addresses the recent “15-by-25” goal and how the NCI remains committed to the sustained progress of cancer research.

In late December, Congress passed a government-wide funding bill containing appropriations for NCI and other federal agencies. Once again, Congress affirmed its commitment to cancer science, cancer patients, and cancer survivors by approving an NCI budget increase of nearly $120 million.

In November, as NCI waited to receive our final budget for fiscal year (FY) 2021, I reported on NCI interim grant paylines. In the absence of a full-year budget, the most prudent approach was to adopt a conservative, provisional spending plan.

The December action by Congress is welcome news for the cancer research community. NCI now has a clear financial picture for the balance of FY 2021 with a budget that allows NCI to raise paylines for our highly competitive R01 grants. 

Grant Paylines Improve for R01s and Early-Stage Investigators

This is the second consecutive year that Congress approved a targeted increase to support NCI extramural grants. The increases provide additional funding for NCI new and continuing (noncompeting) grants. 

As the table below illustrates, the actions by Congress allowed NCI to raise the payline for R01 research awards by 35% since 2019. For two consecutive years, NCI has also raised the grant payline for Early-Stage Investigators (ESIs) by one percentile. And, as you can see below, we are also sustaining continuing awards at 100%.

Paylines for NCI Competing Grants
Grant Type FY 2021 Payline FY 2020 Payline FY 2019 Payline
R01 Grants for Established & New Investigators 11th Percentile 10th Percentile 8th Percentile
R01 Grants for Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) 16th Percentile 15th Percentile 14th Percentile
Continuing (Non-Competing) NCI Grants
FY 2021 Pay at 100%
FY 2020 Pay at 100%
FY 2019 Pay at 97%

Our grants policy on ESIs reflects NCI’s commitment to developing and supporting researchers in the early stages of their careers, which helps ensure that we build and sustain the next generation of talented cancer researchers. With this goal in mind, during FY 2021, NCI will continue to convert the most meritorious ESI R01 applications into R37 Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) awards. R37 awards can provide an additional 2 years of research funding beyond the initial award period.

Path to the 15th Percentile

Our FY 2021 appropriation also allows NCI to advance toward an important milestone: the goal announced in our Annual Plan and Budget Proposal for FY 2022 to raise the payline for R01 applications by one percentile per year and reach the 15th percentile by FY 2025. 

Achieving the “15-by-25” milestone would allow NCI to substantially increase the number of meritorious research applications we fund—research that will fuel broad, sustained progress that serves the needs of people with cancer and those at risk of cancer. We will gain a deeper understanding of the biology of cancer in ways that lead to an array of new strategies to prevent, screen, diagnose, and treat cancer, in all its forms. 

As we advance towards the 15th percentile, NCI will also address another important priority, cancer health disparities—the differences in the burden of cancer incidence, prevalence, treatment response, and mortality among different populations. Just like you, we are committed to cancer research that benefits the entire nation, including individuals, groups, and communities suffering a greater burden of disease than the overall population.

Other important updates on grant policies are available on the NCI Division of Extramural Activities website, where you can also access an archive of NCI grant policies for prior years.

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