Introducing the Stephen I. Katz Early Stage Investigator Research Grant Program

Reposted from the NIH Extramural Nexus newsletter

Posted on November 9, 2020 by Mike Lauer

Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D., led the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases from 1995 until his passing in 2018. Dr. Katz was a talented physician scientist, NIH leader, and civil servant throughout his career who was profoundly dedicated to mentoring and training the next cadre of scientists. During his memorial service at NIH, you can see this dedication on full display. I, along with countless NIH colleagues, were blessed with Dr. Katz’s mentoring and sage advice. That is why, in his honor, we are pleased to announce the publication of Funding Opportunity Announcements for the Stephen I. Katz Early Stage Investigator Research Project Grant program (PAR-21-038 and PAR-21-039).

We know that early stage investigators (ESIs) experience intense competition for funding, which poses a challenge when embarking upon and sustaining an independent research career. This is one of the reasons we launched the NIH Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI) in 2017 (see these blogs for more). NGRI, amongst other features, prioritizes funding for ESIs across NIH. As a testament to its success, NGRI has helped NIH to go from supporting less than 600 ESIs in FY 2013, to 1,316 in FY 2019, and at least that number in 2020.

The new Katz R01 award program will build on these successful NGRI efforts. ESIs may apply for this new opportunity to support their innovative ideas if they are proposing research that is a change in direction from their past work and experience, and for which they have no preliminary data.  For those ESIs who have preliminary data for research projects or those who want to continue on with their current research direction, NIH’s Parent R01 funding opportunities are still available.

Why the focus on no preliminary data? Well, this means that talented individuals can still seek NIH funding and pursue creative and innovative scientific hypotheses even though they lack the initial findings.  Moreover, this should expand pathways and opportunities for those early in their career, something called for by the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director in their 2018 NGRI working group report.

An investigator, importantly, would also be able to pursue a new direction through this program. These could include exploring a new approach, testing a new technique, using a new methodology, or even investigating a new paradigm in biomedicine. As part of their application, they will need to explain how the research direction is new to them and not an obvious or incremental extension of their prior efforts.

And what about peer review? All applications received as part of this funding opportunity announcement will be clustered and reviewed together in appropriate NIH standing study sections. This further aligns with related NGRI efforts giving applications from ESIs special consideration during peer review.

The first due date for applications is January 26, 2021.  Be sure to read the entire funding opportunity announcement before applying and this additional guidance for prospective applicants. We look forward to receiving your ideas.