Published online 15 October 2008 | Nature 455, 841 (2008) | doi:10.1038/455841a

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No more third time lucky

NIH clamps down on proposal resubmissions.

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced last week that biomedical researchers will be able to amend and resubmit a failed funding application only once. Applicants whose grants are unfunded after the second submission may reapply only after designing a new proposal.

The new guidelines, effective from 25 January 2009, are part of an NIH overhaul of the peer-review system for evaluating grant proposals. That system previously allowed applicants two chances to resubmit rejected proposals. Earlier this year, the agency mooted doing away with resubmissions, but decided against it after an outcry from researchers (see Nature 453, 835; 2008).

The NIH estimates that the move will reduce the number of applications by up to 5,000 — welcome news as it struggles to evaluate about 55,000 applications this year.

Grants are increasingly awarded only after they have been through several rounds of submission — in 2007, only about 30% of awards were granted to first-time submissions — and some think resubmission has directed funding towards less competitive proposals. "The study sections may feel 'we've tortured this person long enough'," and fund them out of sympathy, says Keith Yamamoto, a molecular biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who co-chaired a panel tasked with evaluating the NIH's peer-review system.

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Toni Scarpa, director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review, says the new policy will remove delays to funding the most worthy projects, and calls it "a moral imperative".

But some researchers object to the change. Gregory Petsko, a biochemist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, says the system discriminates against young investigators who may need more guidance with their applications. Others view the resubmission process as a way for equally meritorious applications to wait their turn for funding in a time of tight NIH budgets.

The new guidelines could stifle worthy projects, says Beatrice Hahn, an HIV researcher at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. "What are we supposed to work on thereafter?" she says. "Although well intentioned, this change will cause major problems in the current funding crisis." 

Additional reporting by Erika Check Hayden

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