The National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), issued a Request for Information (RFI) last week on a new kind of research funding program (H/T Science magazine – $ for full version). The deadline for comments is August 15.
The input NIGMS receives from the comments and other input from stakeholders will inform a funding opportunity announcement for a pilot of this program, which would link funding to a lab/principal investigator more than to a single project. As the RFI describes it (in part) (a link has been removed):
“An NIGMS MIRA would provide support for a lab’s research program, which represents a compilation of the investigator’s NIGMS research projects (research areas supported by NIGMS are outlined at our website). Researchers would have the freedom to explore new avenues of inquiry that arise during the course of their work as long as those avenues are relevant to the mission of the Institute and do not require additional review for regulatory compliance (e.g., new human subjects research).”
Now, I’m not a research scientist, but this program would represent a notable change in how research funding is normally disbursed in the U.S. Grants are typically considered primarily on the basis of scientific merit and broader impacts and associated with discrete research projects. By aggregating support to the level of a research lab (and the associated principal investigator), NIGMS will be, if only indirectly, putting more stock into the past work and future promise of the lead researcher than it has before.
This kind of arrangement would also allow the lab and principal investigator more flexibility in how to approach an area of research. While the recent political efforts to increase oversight on research projects focused on the National Science Foundation, I would not expect the NIH to be immune from Congressional concerns about how research dollars are being spent. I do not know if Congress would be particularly supportive of providing researchers more autonomy in the current climate. (No, I do not expect an anti-regulation argument to be persuasive in this context.)
But hey, somebody is trying something different in funding mechanisms! That is a good thing, and I would encourage further experiments on the funding side of things (Pilots on new review mechanisms seem to me to be further along).