Awards of R01 and R21 Grants in FY 2020

SUMMARY

During fiscal year 2020, the NCI awarded a total of 1,217 competing Research Project Grants (RPGs; see Table 2), which represented an overall success rate[1] of 13% for all RPG applications and 13% for unsolicited [5] R01 applications. For unsolicited R01 grant applications in 2020, there was a 16% increase in the number of R01 awards compared with 2019 (797 vs. 687), and the overall success rate was higher than in 2019 (13.2% vs. 11.6%), although the total number of applications was higher in 2020. Unsolicited R01 and R21 grants represent 78% of the total number of awards for 2020. NCI funded all unsolicited R01 applications with scores up to and including the 10th percentile[2] and unsolicited R21 applications with scores up to and including the 9th percentile. In addition, R03 and R15 applications with impact scores[4] up to and including a score of 25 were funded.

Special consideration continued to be given to applications from Early Stage R01 Investigators[3]; as a result, all applications in this group with scores up to and including the 15th percentile were funded. An additional 7 meritorious ESI applications were selected for funding beyond the 15th percentile. Beginning in fiscal year 2017 NCI further elevated priorities for supporting the next generation of talented cancer researchers by converting R01 ESI applications that fell within the payline into MERIT R37 awards for an additional 2 years of support beyond the initial award period.

NCI also funded applications with scores beyond the payline after review and approval by NCI's Divisions and Scientific Program Leaders during special meetings with the NCI Director. The graphs that appear below summarize the overall funding patterns for R01s and R21s across various categories of investigators.

The R35 Outstanding Investigator Award (OIA) supports investigators with outstanding records of productivity in cancer research by providing extended funding stability for projects of unusual potential. OIA recipients are required to commit at least 50% effort to the OIA research. NCI will only consider funding two additional research project grants to the Outstanding Investigator while the OIA is active. This limit includes single PD/PI, multiple PD/PI, and multi-project grants.

The R50 Research Specialist Award is designed to encourage the development of stable research career opportunities for exceptional scientists who want to pursue research within the context of an existing cancer research program, but not serve as independent investigators. These scientists, such as researchers within a research program, core facility managers, and data scientists, are vital to sustaining the biomedical research enterprise.

Also beginning in fiscal year 2017, the NCI supported The Cancer MoonshotSM to accelerate scientific discovery in cancer, foster greater collaboration, and improve the sharing of data. The figures and displays represented include Cancer MoonshotSM.

Funding Patterns for R01 Applications

The graph in Figure 1 summarizes the number of percentiled R01 applications received and grants funded at each percentile, among all investigators. As expected, beyond the 10th percentile, the number of grants funded decreased in proportion to the percentile ranking. Nevertheless, 15% of these awards had rankings beyond the 10th percentile.
Similar displays are shown below for experienced investigators (applicants who have received a prior R01 award and were applying for a new grant or a competitive renewal; Figure 2); new investigators[3] (Figure 3); and early stage investigators[3] (Figure 4). Similar patterns are observed in all cases. Success rates have not been plotted for new and early stage investigators because of the small numbers of applications at each percentile score. For Success Rate comparisons, refer to Tables 1 and 2 below.
Funding Patterns in previous years are posted at: https://gsspubssl.nci.nih.gov/blog/articles.
[1] The success rate is the percentage of applications received that are funded. It is calculated by dividing the number of funded grants by the number of applications received. When an amended application is considered in the same fiscal year as the original, only the application with the better score is counted in the number of applications received.
[2] A percentile is a score that ranks competing applications against others in the same study section in the past year. It is intended to allow a comparison of impact scores[4] of applications across all study sections.
[3] The New Investigator is one who has not previously competed successfully for an R01 or other substantial NIH independent research award. An Early Stage Investigator is a New Investigator who is within 10 years of completing his/her terminal research degree or medical residency (or the equivalent). A more detailed definition can be found at: https://grants.nih.gov/policy/new_investigators/index.htm#definition.
[4] The impact score is given by each individual scientific reviewer's assessment of the scored criteria plus additional criteria regarding the protection and inclusion of human subjects; vertebrate animal care and welfare; biohazards, and criteria specific to the funding opportunity and is based on the overall impact that the project is likely to have on the research field(s) involved.
[5] An unsolicited application is an investigator initiated application and is not an application in response to an RFA.
NCI FY2020: "Percentiled" R01 Applications, Awards and Success Rates
Figure 1: All Investigators: Experienced, New and Early Stage
Figure 1: All Investigators: Experienced, New and Early Stage
Figure 1: In some cases, applications scoring within the payline were determined ineligible for funding due to overlap.
Figure 2: Experienced Investigators
Figure 2: Experienced Investigators
NCI FY2020 Competing R01 Applications and Awards
Figure 3: New Investigators (Includes Early Stage Investigators)
Figure 3: New Investigators (Includes Early Stage Investigators)
Figure 4: Early Stage Investigators
Figure 4: Early Stage Investigators
Figures 1-4: Excludes applications that did not receive a percentile ranking. When an amended application is considered in the same fiscal year as the original, only the one with the better ranking is counted.

Funding Patterns for R21 Applications

The funding patterns for R21 grant applications differ from those of R01 applications. The patterns are explained by the fact that NCI receives a disproportionate number of applications relative to the number of R21 grants that can be funded (see Table 1). Of the Competing R21s funded, 5% had rankings beyond the 9th percentile. NCI has seen a drop in R21 applications from last year by 298.
In contrast to R01 funding patterns, where New Investigators (applicants who have never received an R01; Figure 7) have a success rate of 11%, the success rates for R21 funding of new investigators is 6%. This is notably lower than the 13% success rate for experienced investigators (applicants who have received a prior R01 award; Figure 6) for both R01 and R21 (Table 1). This disparity results from the fact that R01 applications, but not R21 applications, from early stage investigators are given preferential consideration. As explained in footnote 3 above, early stage investigators are new investigators within 10 years of receiving their highest degree or completing their clinical training who have not had an R01 award or other substantial NIH independent research award; Figure 8. Although R21 success rates for new investigators are lower than for experienced investigators (6% vs. 13%), new investigators received more than one-third of all R21 awards (53 vs. 149).
NCI FY2020: R21 Applications, Awards and Success Rates
Figure 5: All Investigators: Experienced, New and Early Stage
Figure 5: All Investigators: Experienced and New
Figure 6: Experienced Investigators
Figure 6: Experienced Investigators
NCI FY2020 Competing R21 Applications and Awards
Figure 7: New Investigators (Includes Early Stage Investigators)
Figure 7: New Investigators
Figure 8: Early Stage Investigators
Figure 8: Early Stage Investigators
NCI applied the same R01 criteria to identify new and early stage investigators. For Success Rate comparisons, refer to Tables 1 and 2 below.
Figures 5-8: Excludes applications that did not receive a percentile ranking. When an amended application is considered in the same fiscal year as the original, only the one with the better ranking is counted.
Table 1: Fiscal Year 2020: Success Rates (unsolicited R01s, R37s and R21s)
  Total Applications Number With Percentiles
1-19
Number With Percentiles
1-10
Funded Success Rate
R01/R37 - All Investigators 6,053 1,233 701 797 13%
Experienced Investigators - Total 4,345 994 573 613 14%
Type 1 4,049 872 492 527 13%
Type 2 290 119 79 84 29%
Type 3 Board 6 3 2 2 33%
New Investigators - Total1 1,708 239 128 184 11%
Early Stage New Investigators2 725 134 74 115 16%
R21 - All Investigators 1,563 333 156 149 10%
Experienced Investigators 714 203 100 96 13%
New Investigators 849 130 56 53 6%
Early Stage New Investigators2 196 41 23 19 10%
Includes Cancer MoonshotSM
Total new and competing renewal applications include those that received either a percentile, an impact score, as well as those that were not discussed (triaged) or were not recommended for funding.
Funded R01s include competing revisions. In FY2020 57 R01s were converted to R37s.
1 Includes Early Stage Investigators
2 Included in New Investigators
The NIH does not report the R21 grants in terms of experienced and new investigators; NCI applied R01 criteria to identify those parameters.
Table 2: All Competing Research Project Grants
  FY 2016 FY 2017 FY 2018 FY 2019 FY 2020
Requested Funded Success Rate Requested Funded Success Rate Requested Funded Success Rate Requested Funded Success Rate Requested Funded Success Rate
R01/R37 - Unsolicited1 4,785 650 14% 5,263 650 12% 5,864 676 12% 5,912 687 12% 6,053 797 13%
R01 RFAs2 240 45 19% 309 44 14% 249 35 14% 381 45 12% 162 20 12%
Total R01/R37 5,025 695 14% 5,572 694 12% 6,113 711 12% 6,293 732 12% 6,215 817 13%
R21 - Unsolicited 3,100 260 8% 1,513 109 7% 2,100 187 9% 1,861 170 9% 1,563 149 10%
R21 RFAs2 283 35 12% 388 44 11% 310 26 8% 343 36 10% 231 20 9%
Total R21 3,383 295 9% 1,901 153 8% 2,410 213 9% 2,204 206 9% 1,794 169 9%
R35 175 35 20% 141 29 21% 104 20 19% 71 17 24% 74 15 20%
R50 219 34 16% 80 17 21% 27 14 52% 85 19 22% 99 16 16%
R03 - Unsolicited 484 48 10% 714 90 13% 564 60 11% 505 60 12% 537 61 11%
Other RFAs3 285 62 22% 443 57 13% 338 54 16% 288 37 13% 338 53 16%
Other RPGs4 670 61 9% 853 99 12% 761 90 12% 662 107 16% 481 86 18%
Total Competing RPGs: 10,241 1,230 12% 9,704 1,139 12% 10,317 1,162 11% 10,108 1,178 12% 9,538 1,217 13%
Includes Cancer MoonshotSM
1 Funded R01s include competing revisions. In FY2020 57 R01s were converted to R37s.
2The Provocative Questions (PQ) RFA did not compete in FY2020.
3 Other RFAs include UM1, R33, P01, U01, UH2, and UG3.
4 Other RPGs include DP2, P01, R15, R56, U01, U19, UH2, UH3, UM1, and UG3.
Funding Patterns for other years are posted at: https://gsspubssl.nci.nih.gov/blog/articles.


Published Mar 23, 2021 by NIH/NCI/DEA
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