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Funding Patterns

Awards of R01 and R21 Grants in FY 2011

Beginning in FY 2011, NCI adopted a new approach to the selection of grant applications for funding that sets a zone within which nearly all applications are selected for funding. In both 2011 and 2012, that zone extended to the 7th percentile[1]. Beyond that point, all applications are considered, resulting in a final success rate[2] of 15% in 2011. The charts and table below summarize the overall funding patterns for R01s and R21s in various categories of investigators.
Funding Patterns for R01 applications:
Figure 1 summarizes the number of R01 applications received and grants funded at each percentile, among all investigators. As is evident, the number of grants funded decreased in direct proportion to the percentile ranking. Nevertheless, 48% of the grants funded had rankings greater than the 7th percentile.
NCI FY2011 Competing R01 Applications and Awards
Figure 1: All Investigators: Experienced, New and Early Stage 
Figure 1: All Investigators: Experienced, New and Early Stage
Figure 1 includes data from all categories of investigators: experienced investigators who have had NIH grants in the past, new investigators who previously have not had a substantial independent NIH award, and early stage investigators who are within 10 years of completing their training and have not had a previous grant. If applications from only experienced investigators are considered, the same pattern of funding success is observed (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Experienced Investigators
Figure 2: Experienced Investigators
In striking contrast, if R01 applications only from new investigators (Figure 3) or only from early stage investigators (Figure 4) are considered, there is a much broader spread in the percentile rankings of applications, extending to higher percentiles, that were selected for funding. This distribution, across a wide range of scores, reflects NCI's commitment to ensuring that the overall success rate for new investigators approximates that for established investigators.
NCI FY2011 Competing R01 Applications and Awards
Figure 3: New Investigators
Figure 3: New 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 grant applications:
The funding patterns for R21 grant applications differ markedly from those of the R01. This difference is 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). Thus, the cut-off for funding of R21 grant applications is more stringent than that for R01 applications for all investigators (Figure 5-7). Thirty percent of the grants funded had rankings beyond the 7th percentile.
In contrast to the case with the R01 funding patterns, success rates for R21 funding of applications from new and early stage investigators[3] are significantly lower than for established investigators (8% versus 14% success rates, respectively) (Table 1). The difference in success rates for R21 compared to R01 applications from new investigators is striking: 8% compared with 13%. This disparity results from the fact that R01, but not R21 applications, from new investigators are given preferential consideration.
NCI FY2011 Competing R21 Applications and Awards
Figure 5: All Investigators: Experienced and New
Figure 5: All Investigators: Experienced and New
Figure 6: Experienced Investigators
Figure 6: Experienced Investigators
NCI FY2011 Competing R21 Applications and Awards
Figure 7: New Investigators
Figure 7: New Investigators
Figures 5-7: 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 2011 R01 and R21 All Investigators Success Rates
  Total Applications Number with Percentiles of 25 or better Number with Percentiles of 10 or better Funded Success Rate
R01 -
All Investigators
4,477 1,145 487 652 15%
Experienced Investigator - Total 3,005 837 396 468 16%
Type 1 2,440 586 265 314 13%
Type 2 565 251 131 154 27%
*New Investigator 1,472 308 91 184 13%
**Early Stage Investigator 545 143 37 91 17%
R21 -
All Investigators
2,242 484 201 223 10%
Experienced Investigator 780 222 97 106 14%
New Investigator 1,462 262 104 117 8%
Total applications include all new and competing renewals that received a percentile, those with just an impact score as well as triaged or not recommended for funding.
When an amended application is considered in the same fiscal year as the original, only the one with the better percentile is counted.
* Includes Early Stage Investigators
**Included in New Investigators
[1] 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 of applications across all study sections. The impact score is given by scientific reviewers based on the overall impact that the project is likely to have on the research field(s) involved.
[2] 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 one with the better score is counted in the number of applications received.
[3]The NIH does not separate the categories, nor report the R21 grants in terms of experienced or new investigators. The NCI was able to apply the R01 rules to the R21 to extract, and generate the data that distinguishes the 2 groups in these graphs.


These are very impressive and balanced statistics based on the outcome of scientifically meritorious applications. However, success rate of 8% for R21 new investigators may need to be taken into consideration for some boost for FY2012. These are the next generation cadre of cancer researchers who would benefit by more encouraging numbers of upto 15% success rate. After all, these are the future scientists who will carry on heavy lifting of transitioning into R01 pool of applicants. Anil Wali

Posted on May 02, 2012 at 02:05 PM EDT #

These data reflects the best case scenario considering the plunging paylines to maintain the steady stream of the "Best science by Best scientists" paradigm. However, in the light of paradigm shift towards "Provocative Questions (PQs)", we should encourage potential new investigators to pursue or at least incorporate PQs theme in the scope of their proposed aplications. The initial PQs, as well as the second phase of PQs, have been developed based on several brain storming sessions and workshops all across the country, and should be reflective of the collective opinions of all the cancer research workforce (intra-extra-mural scientists) across this nation. More resources should be devoted to these PQ responsive applications that would ultimately be a transformative experience to the mission and vision of NCI in addressing cancer care continuum. Anil Wali

Posted on May 02, 2012 at 02:19 PM EDT #

In order for us to inculcate cancer research philosophy among the budding young scientist, it will be helpful to catch them early during their transformative years of R21 mechanism. Securing R21 funding should pave way for the larger R01 grant application. Therefore, inceasing the support for R21 would be in the best interest of creating a critical threshold of brilliant scientists with exceptional and extraordinary talent from all diverse population groups to contribute towards emerging fields of cancer research. Anil Wali

Posted on May 02, 2012 at 02:27 PM EDT #

What is an experienced investigator type 1 vs, type 2 application? The funding rates of these two categories seem quite different? What is the reason for this and what purpose does it serve?

Posted on May 02, 2012 at 09:31 PM EDT #

Wow. Very impressive lack of support for early stage investigators with both R21 and R01 applications.

Posted on May 03, 2012 at 07:36 PM EDT #

15% success rate????

Posted on May 03, 2012 at 07:53 PM EDT #

A 15% success rate is decimating the scientific community and does not accurately reflect what scientists are now doing to be in the successful category. All our time is now spent writing and rewriting grants hoping to win the funding lottery so we can keep our labs running. There is no time to think and be the scientists we were trained to be. Moreover, since grants can only be resubmitted 2 times now and we cannot completely change our research direction, we waste a huge amount of time repackaging (a creative writing exercise) a grant that got a 27% and then an 17% in hopes that it gets an 8% next or the next go around. The reality is that an 17% is not much better than an 8%. This low success rate and what scientists are now forced to do to continue to be scientists is only chasing the current and the next generation of scientists away. The person with the next great discovery is now walking away from science.

Posted on May 03, 2012 at 07:55 PM EDT #

It would be nice to have at least one chart with historic data (e.g., overall funding rate by year going back a number of years). Perhaps a breakdown by cancer type. (number of grant applications submitted by cancer type along with funding lines and dollar amounts) Also, is 15% high or low compared to other NIH institutes?

Posted on May 03, 2012 at 08:08 PM EDT #

How about R15? NCI should consider funding good science irrespective of the level of University, not only to big people in big universities/institutions.

Posted on May 04, 2012 at 10:39 AM EDT #

Thank you for joining NIGMS in posting the funding data. I hope more ICs will follow suit in rapid order.

Posted on May 04, 2012 at 11:13 AM EDT #

Please note the total number of Early Stage New Investigators funded versus Experienced Researchers! It is surprising to see that NIH is the only institution with no respect for young scientists. DOD, NSF and many private foundations have a separate program to fund New Investigators. NIH claims that it gives 5% leverage to New Investigators instead. Well, when competing with someone who has 500 publications, what is going to be the chance of success for New Investigators?! Please remember that New Investigators are also tax payers and contribute to the NIH budget.

Posted on May 04, 2012 at 12:34 PM EDT #

I think type2 is a resubmission so its funded at a higher percent since they can't be resubmitted if its not funded in this cycle. so writing a proposal that gets scored first time has a better chance of it getting funded next time even if the score is outside the paylines.

Posted on May 04, 2012 at 01:05 PM EDT #

These numbers may sound better than what they really represent to the scientific community. The reality is that most grants continue not to receive funding, and investigators do almost nothing else than writing multiple grants just to be able to survive a research-based career. Not mentioned in this report is the fact that even among successfully funded grants, the actual money to conduct the project may take months to even a year to reach investigator's institutions. This lag time for funded projects also undermines investigators' ability to successfully conduct valuable research. As a result of this dire situation, several new investigators are becoming justifiably frustrated with government funding for research. If the trend continues, this country will lose the global scientific leadership that distinguishes us from other countries.

Posted on May 04, 2012 at 01:25 PM EDT #

It would help to remove the record of failed attempts at funding for an investigator so that the investigator doesn't have any poor/failed performance from even a decade ago follow them at the current time. It feels like you are a convicted felon if you submitted a grant that was not funded (or scored). Sometimes some more maturity, mentoring and work might be able to improve the subsequent applications. But sure enough, if you speak with any NIH staffer assigned as point of contact to discuss a potential grant, the first thing is to look at your past record! Since so much has changed, why don't you just wipe the slate clean or take it off line please? What is the point? Thank you.

Posted on May 04, 2012 at 04:21 PM EDT #

The x axis of these graphs should go from 0 to 100% to present the data in an unbiased way. One can then truly visualize the tiny percent of applications that are funded. The visual impact on the "other 90%" will be dramatic.

Posted on May 04, 2012 at 04:35 PM EDT #

It's musical chairs once again. I'm out after 20 years of NIH funding from R21, R01 and P01 grant proposals. Congratulations to those who persist but I wonder how sustainable it will be. Another issue is "politics". My sense is that the review process is more cut throat and club like than it has ever been. And, that it is almost impossible to get funded outside of ones "club" which unfortunately suppresses novel approaches and new blood. I recommend David Servan-Schrieber's international best-seller "Anticancer: A New Lifestyle" for those looking for healthy alternatives.

Posted on May 04, 2012 at 04:44 PM EDT #

Type 1 = new application Type 2 = competing renewal (smaller pool, higher success rate assuming productivity in prior funding period)

Posted on May 05, 2012 at 12:27 AM EDT #

I am encouraging all my PhD students to reconsider their careers in research and teaching at higher level where your career basically depends on how many grants you can secure from the NIH. Its a sad situation to be in but I wish someone had pointed out the same to me about 10 yrs ago (though chances of funding were much better then).

Posted on May 05, 2012 at 01:23 PM EDT #

I am encouraging all my PhD students to reconsider their careers in research and teaching at higher level where your career basically depends on how many grants you can secure from the NIH. Its a sad situation to be in but I wish someone had pointed out the same to me about 10 yrs ago (though chances of funding were much better then).

Posted on May 05, 2012 at 01:56 PM EDT #

Very balanced as seemingly intended. However I would expect to see a funding pyramid of "normal" shape i.e. with the majority of funding going to new investigators with opportunities becoming increasingly more competitive as investigators do or do not demonstrate increasing efficacy. Overall the pattern is discouraging. As some of us are aware, the result of this funding strategy is to drive some of the best new researchers to other fields where innovation is better appreciated. This is already reflected at the student level, where many hopefuls are altering career trajectories away from cancer research - as well they should. It occurs that the only way to reverse these trends is to encourage new investigators by increasing funding opportunities. So unfortunate that the state of the academic world depends so much on this fact, but there it is.

Posted on May 07, 2012 at 02:32 PM EDT #

It would be nice to show out of those who were funded, how many already have current R01 funding, and how many have multiple R01 funding. This should help the funding agencies to determine how to split the funding between experienced and new investigators.

Posted on May 07, 2012 at 03:41 PM EDT #

Thanks for posting these statistics. I think that everyone will recognize the futility and "unsustainability" of a NIH-funded soft-money research career. The only PIs who can afford to dabble in research are people with a day job, i.e., faculty, or clinicians, or researchers with at least 50% hard money from their institution. The rest cannot hope to do enough quality work to pay themselves, let alone staff, given the success rates. The scarce resources are an impasse, and there will be significant attrition without additional funds. The ARRA only put off the inevitable. Lemmings, the edge of the cliff is upon us.

Posted on May 07, 2012 at 08:18 PM EDT #

Is there any data on A0 compared with A1 submission success rates?

Posted on May 08, 2012 at 05:50 PM EDT #

It is quite obvious that the R21 mechanism greatly favors the experienced investigators. Most likely it is because these investigators are able to provide substantial amount of preliminary data unlike the new investigators. Often these applications represent abbreviated or failed R01s. However, the R21 mechanism is supposed to be for "Exploratory and Developmental" proejcts which, by definition, should be able to provide little, if any, preliminary data. If we are able to limit the preliminary data in the application, and remind the reviewers that these are not R01s, preliminary data are not required, and the emphasis should be on "Exploratory and Dvelopmental" projects, the playing field will be leveled and comparable funding will likely result. The key is to change the culture of the reviewers who often treat R21s like R01s (that might often be reviewed together).

Posted on May 09, 2012 at 04:53 PM EDT #

After submitting over fifteen NIH grants over my career and never receiving funding from the NIH is quite disturbing. I agree with many of the comments above. Constant grant writing does not make you a scientist, it turns you into a novelist, how to spin your story the best. I did not know that NIH staffers and others could look at my past failed grants as this would bias them into again not funding. This should not be happening. R21 should be just that, not require lots of preliminary data. New investigators should be favored, not the large labs with 15 post docs. There should be a limit on how many RO1s someone can have concurrently to spread the research dollars around. And lastly, the PhDs I have taught have all left the basic science field because there was no future for them.

Posted on May 14, 2012 at 02:05 PM EDT #

It's sad that as a successful genomics company founder and top 10 university grad, I can't get funded at NIH 6 years after my degree. I could get paid a 50% premium to work in industry, so how long does NIH think we're going to keep punishing ourselves? In addition to the other trends mentioned above, there are demographic and economic trends supporting baby boomers. There are more of them, and they get paid more, leaving much less $$ left over to help the next generation of scientists get on their feet. NIH is eating its seed corn.

Posted on June 06, 2012 at 08:50 PM EDT #

After doing more than 30 years of cancer research and having supported the lab on NIH grants for this period I must now admit defeat. I have been constantly writing proposals the last 3 years, and just saw the score of my last hope- a competitive renewal that got a 20th percentile. Money ran out per June 1. Because I have published till the end and have a respectable track record, I am quite firmly convinced I had it wrong all the time: I stayed in the lab and performed research, instead of trying to become a member of the good old boys network. Being a woman, and not getting out there to tell the world how wonderful your research is all the time, is a lethal combination if you want NIH funds.

Posted on June 07, 2012 at 10:56 PM EDT #

I would appreciate any comments for help: June 10, 2012 I received R21 A1 (NCI) notice: imapct/priority score: 27 percentile: 16 is there still an opportunity to be funded or I should develop it to an new application? Thanks, Zhuoli Zhang

Posted on June 11, 2012 at 10:33 AM EDT #

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