Disclosure: I participated in the preparation of one of the Collaborative Research Center applications.
Today and tomorrow, the applications for ME/CFS Collaborative Research Centers and Data Coordinating Center are undergoing peer review at NIH. It’s a very important stage in the decision making process, and competition is tight.
If you look at the roster for the review panel, you will undoubtedly recognize some names. There are nine ME experts on the panel, out of twenty-six total members. Because there is a great deal of overlap among ME experts, I reported on NIH’s management of potential conflicts of interest in grant review.
Peer review is incredibly important at NIH. The review panel is comprised of scientists with relevant expertise. They score the applications on a variety of criteria, and come up with an overall impact score “to reflect their assessment of the likelihood for the project to exert a sustained, powerful influence on the research field(s) involved.” The final calculated score ranges between 10 and 90, with 10 being the best possible score. Applicants can access their scores three days after the meeting, or no later than August 1st in this case. Summary statements, which include reviewer comments, are available about thirty days after the meeting.
But the scores are not the end of the process. The rest of the decision making happens within NIH. Program staff prepare funding recommendations based on scores, comments, and the Institutes’ overall research priorities. Those recommendations are presented to the Institute Advisory Councils, which review the material in light of the Institutes’ goals and needs. The Council recommendations go to the Institute Director, who makes the ultimate decision on which grants are funded.
The Council stage in our case is a little complicated. There are ten Institutes contributing money to the RFAs, but it seems unwieldy to present recommendations to all ten Councils. NINDS is listed first on both RFAs, and Dr. Vicky Whittemore is the research point of contact, so I am assuming that NINDS Council and Director will be presented with the recommendations. However, NIAID is contributing the same amount of money as NINDS ($2 million per year for five years), so it is possible that NIAID Council will also be consulted.
The dates of the Council meetings are important to note because it creates a very tight deadline. The NINDS Council meeting is September 7-8th. The NIAID Council meeting is on September 11th. Final award decisions must be made immediately afterwards because the fiscal year ends on September 30th. Dr. Whittemore has said that they hope to get Notice of Award letters out before that date.
There is one more item, tucked almost out of notice. Another meeting of the CFS Special Emphasis Panel will be held on July 31st. I can only assume that this group will review applications submitted under the general funding opportunity, and not under the RFAs.