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People Awards

This post has been updated to clarify that the National Institute of General Medical Sciences is proposing a new program.

Rather than funding certain projects proposed by investigators some agencies at the US National Institutes of Health are exploring funding the investigators themselves, Science's Jocelyn Kaiser reports. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, she notes, has long taken the approach of "people, not projects," and NIH ventured into the arena in 2004 with its Pioneer Awards that fund investigators doing high-risk, high-reward research. The agency is now seeking to branch out.

These people-based awards aim to "unbridle scientists a bit," and enable them to "step off the grant treadmill," Sally Rockey, NIH's deputy director for extramural research, tells her.

The National Cancer Institute announced an award last month that would give recipients up to $600,000 a year for seven years, plus more for overhead costs, and replace their project-based grants. The agency says that if it adds 50 such awards each year for seven years, it will cost $317 million a year, or about 16 percent of what it spends on research grants now.

Similarly, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences has proposed offering a $150,000 to $750,000 for five years in direct funding through its Maximizing Investigators' Research Award. "The hope is that this new approach will increase investigators' funding stability and their flexibility to follow important new research directions as opportunities and ideas arise," the institute says. "MIRAs could also reduce the time investigators spend writing and reviewing grants, in part by not requiring them to break their work into smaller, strictly prescribed increments."