In Case You Missed It: NIH Amends Resubmission Policy

In 2009, the NIH restricted the number of resubmissions of applications for funding to one (A1), requiring any subsequent new research funding applications (A0) to be substantially different from the unfunded application. Shrinking research budgets and the impacts of this restriction–it requires researchers to substantially re-direct their work, which may mean reorienting the efforts of a whole lab–were taking an obvious toll on research, with many meritorious ideas being abandoned as a result of this restriction.

In the intervening years, the NIH has become increasingly more aware of this issue and, in April, announced a new policy that new research submissions (A0) do not need to be substantially different from unfunded previous resubmissions (A1). In fact, researchers may skip the resubmission process and submit an unfunded application as a new application (A0).

While there are pros and cons to skipping the resubmission (A1) and submitting a previously unfunded application as new (A0), the most obvious drawback is the lack of an Introduction in the new application process. In a resubmission (A1), the Introduction is used to address reviewers’ concerns, discuss changes made to the proposal, and, perhaps most importantly, discuss reviewers’ concerns that did not result in changes to the proposal (a defense and explanation of an idea or approach, as it were).

Although reviewers are instructed to handle new submissions (A0) as new (even if the proposal had been previously submitted), it is likely that the same or similar reviewer concerns will arise with the proposal if it is not substantially changed and submitted as new (A0). A researcher who has not integrated changes suggested by reviewers and does not have the communication channel of the resubmission’s Introduction may find the outcome of their new-but-not-really application is the same as the outcome for their first application–but they have spent additional time on the process. In this case, where the researcher would benefit by addressing why reviewer concerns did not result in changes to the proposal, the resubmission (A1) process will still be the most strategic approach.

Each situation is, of course, unique. Determine your best strategy by reading the information about the new policy and the accompanying FAQ for yourself and weighing your options. Whether you use the resubmission (A1) or new application (A0) option, do assure that your submission is current–a dated literature review is an indication to reviewers that the science in your proposal is dated.

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