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NIH Proteomics Funding Fell 3 Percent in FY 2008

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - Funding from the National Institutes of Health for all proteomics-related research shrank by almost 3 percent in fiscal 2008, according to an analysis of NIH data by GenomeWeb Daily News sister publication ProteoMonitor.

For the period covering Oct.1, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2008, NIH funding for proteomics research declined to $125.6 million from $129.1 million in fiscal 2007.

Additionally, the number of grants the agency awarded slid more than 8 percent to 317 in 2008 from 346 in 2007. In many, if not most, cases, funding received in 2008 represented portions of multi-year grants that began in earlier years.

Grants awarded in 2008 averaged $396,072, up 6 percent from an average of $373,029 in 2007, according to the NIH.

Proteomics-directed grants represented about .58 percent of the total 54,644 grants the NIH awarded in 2008, down from .62 percent of the 55,198 it awarded in 2007. In dollar amounts, the grants awarded in 2008 for proteomics represented .59 percent of the total $21.2 billion handed out by NIH during the year. In 2007, proteomics grants made up .61 percent of the $21.3 billion in NIH awards

The analysis was performed on a database of all grants awarded by the agency for fiscal 2008 and was based on grants-title search terms such as "proteomics," "proteome," and "mass spectrometer."

The results are not a comprehensive list of all the grants awarded during the year for proteomics research. For example, experiments based on technology other than mass specs, such as protein arrays, are probably insufficiently captured by the results. Also, on their own, NIH data provide no insight into how many proposals the agency rejected in 2008, or why.

While federal funding for all science research has been tight in recent years, proteomics researchers have complained that US subsidies for their work have been particularly hard to find, especially in comparison to genomics research.

At the annual conference of the Human Proteome Organization in the summer, apparent resistance to funding proteomics projects, particularly large-scale ones, was on full display during a session with various funding agencies throughout North America and Europe, including NIH. During a session to discuss HUPO's proposed $1 billion, 10-year Human Proteome Project, funders repeatedly alluded to an image of proteomics as a field that has failed to deliver in the clinical setting, which has made the discipline a hard sell.

While getting funding is especially hard for young scientists without a track record or the experience to sell their work to the NIH, even those who have been in the field for decades say getting money for proteomics research is a challenge that has been getting tougher.

"There isn't much interest per se in [funding] proteomics" projects, Fred Regnier, a professor of analytical chemistry at Purdue University, told ProteoMonitor this week.

The problem is simple, he said: There simply isn't enough money in NIH's pot for everyone. As a reviewer for NIH, he said that the number of proposals in recent years has skyrocketed while funding for NIH has generally remained flat or declined.

In addition, he said, the agency has had trouble getting enough reviewers, and in some fields, including proteomics, the reviewers are not familiar with the intricacies and issues of the field. The result is that some grant proposals may have been turned down not on their merits, but because reviewers may not be able to properly judge them.

A more comprehensive version of this article appears in today's issue of ProteoMonitor.

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