Sally Rockey, the deputy director of extramural research at NIH, announced on her Rock Talk blog last week that NIH's grant success rate for 2011 had fallen to 18 percent — "an all-time low," says ScienceInsider's Jocelyn Kaiser. In a more recent Rock Talk post, Rockey says the reasons behind this dip are "very complex, and certainly, there is not a simple relationship between the success and the quantity of science supported by us." The fall continues a downward trend that began a decade ago, when NIH success rates were around 30 percent, Kaiser adds.
Part of the problem, Rockey says, is that there was a 17 percent increase in R21 grant proposals, and a 3 percent increase in R01 grant proposals. "The increase in the number of R21 applications alone accounts for nearly all of the decrease in R21 success rates from 15 percent to 13 percent," Rockey adds. In addition to the increase in grant proposals, NIH's budget in 2011 was reduced by 1 percent, which, in turn, reduced the amount of money available to fund grants. "This reduction affected competing awards disproportionately because in any given year, the proportion of the NIH budget for R01s that is tied up in commitments (funding for non-competing continuations), can range from approximately 70 to 80 percent," Rockey says. Added to that, a large amount of R01 grant money was already set aside to fund existing grants in 2011, and the average cost of an R01 increased by 2 percent.
"Although NIH received a modest 0.8 percent increase in 2012, the agency appears to be girding for a period of austerity," ScienceInsider's Kaiser adds. "A notice today states that continuing grants will get no inflationary increase in 2012 and new awards will not receive inflationary increases in future years."