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NIH Plans Overhaul of Peer Review Process

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – After a lengthy review of the process by which it reviews, rejects, and approves grant applications, the National Institutes of Health is now preparing a report that will recommend new policies that could help speed up grant delivery and enhance the integrity and efficiency of the review process.

In order to find ways to improve review processes, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni last summer kicked off a broad, inclusive examination of the peer review system by calling on researchers to air their gripes and share their ideas about how to make the system better.

After several meetings and much discussion among internal and external working groups comprised of researchers, advocacy groups, professional society groups, and NIH staff, the NIH yesterday issued a summary of its points of focus, including a set of challenges and proposed recommendations, and now plans to release a formal list of recommendations by April.

In this preliminary report the NIH put on the table a number of challenges and recommendations, most of which were broadly defined.

“The fine details of implementation were purposefully not considered during this phase of the project and it would be premature to consider issues of this type today,” NIH stated in the report, titled “A Self-Study by the NIH in Partnership with the Scientific Community to Strengthen Peer Review in Changing Times.”

The NIH outlined the broad goals as a set of challenges. These include reducing the administrative burden of applicants, reviewers, and NIH staff; enhancing review and reviewer quality; optimizing support at different career stages and types and for different scientific approaches; and the need for continuing to review the peer review system in the future.

One goal is to focus on the merit of the science as presented in the application and not on the “potential improvements” realized following additional rounds of review. To deal with that, the NIH may recommend removing the “special status” of amended applications and consider all applications as being “new,” NIH said.

This would allow researchers to re-apply without revising, and would allow reviewers to develop more concise reviews.

Other points of focus include enhancing the rating system and the quality of reviewers and reviews, clarifying feedback, increasing the focus of reviews on the potential impact and innovation of an applicant’s research program, and a number of other areas the NIH plans to elaborate on in its April report.

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