The goal of the NINDS Research Program Award (RPA), which uses the R35 funding mechanism, is to allow an investigator whose record of research achievement demonstrates his or her ability to make major contributions to neuroscience, the freedom to embark on ambitious, creative, and/or longer-term research projects, without the constraints of specific aims. RPAs will support the overall research programs of NINDS-funded investigators for up to 8 years, at a maximum level of $750,000 direct costs per year.
We invite you to read about the exciting work of the first group of R35 awardees, as described by NINDS Director Walter Koroshetz in his Director’s Message.
If you have any questions about the NINDS Research Program Award (RPA) or about whether you are a good candidate for the award, please reference the FAQs below and/or contact your program director.
NINDS Research Program Award Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the NINDS Research Program Award and what is its purpose?
A. The Research Program Award (RPA) is a new funding mechanism being piloted by the NINDS to provide support for an investigator and his/her laboratory as a whole, rather than on a project-by-project basis. Its purpose is to support all NINDS mission-relevant research in a laboratory through a single grant award that will be up to eight years in duration. The anticipated advantages of this approach include increased stability of funding, increased flexibility to pursue new ideas and scientific opportunities as they arise, reduced administrative burden associated with grant writing and management of multiple grants, and increased time to devote more attention and energy to mentoring junior scientists.
Q. What distinguishes the RPA from traditional NIH programs?
A. Rather than funding an individual project, an RPA will support all the NINDS-relevant research that would normally be supported by one or more traditional grant awards. It is intended to provide an investigator with increased flexibility to pursue new research directions as opportunities arise and to enable the PD/PI (Program Director / Principal Investigator) to pursue longer-range, research goals. We expect most RPAs to last for a total of eight years, with an administrative checkpoint to assess progress after five years. Other differences include: a reduced level of detail required in the application, including the elimination of specific aims; differences in the review process and review criteria to emphasize the impact of the work and to de-emphasize details of the approach.
Q. How much time/effort must recipients devote to RPA? How many calendar months?
A. By replacing all or most of an investigator’s NINDS funding, the research supported by an RPA should be the major focus of the PD/PI’s laboratory or research group. Therefore, the PD/PI must devote at least 6 person months (i.e., the equivalent of 50% effort on for a full-year appointment, 66.67% on a 9-month appointment, or 100% on a 6-month appointment) to the RPA throughout the duration of the award period. When applicable, PDs/PIs will be expected to renegotiate their time and effort on other non-NINDS awards in order to accommodate the level of effort required by the RPA.
Q. What scientific areas of research are appropriate for support by RPA?
A. Any research area within the mission of NINDS is eligible for support using the RPA award. However, some types of research might be more suitably supported through a traditional R01 or other grant mechanism that requires more specific methodological detail or programmatic oversight (e.g., clinical trials, advanced translational research). NINDS supports both of these research activities through structured programs. See NINDS funding opportunities in Clinical Trials and Translational Research. Research that has been traditionally supported by another NIH Institute or Center is not appropriate for an NINDS RPA, even when combined as part of a larger research program.
Q. Can technology development be included or is the award only for hypothesis-driven research?
A. Yes. Technology development can be an essential part of any research program and hypothesis-driven science is only one way of approaching a research problem. However, applicants should contact NINDS staff to determine if the R35 is the most appropriate mechanism for supporting specific technology development projects.
Q. Can you clarify how much flexibility is meant by "flexibility to pursue new research directions"?
A. In research, potential new directions often arise that may, for example, require changes in the model system used or involve the pursuit of new biological problems related to the overall goals of the research program. To accommodate the dynamic nature of research, the R35 program provides flexibility to pursue new directions that are reasonable extensions of the overall themes described in the peer-reviewed application, provided the science remains in the mission of the NINDS. PD/PIs are expected to work with program staff to ensure that the program remains within the mission of the NINDS.
Q. What will be considered in scope and what would be out of the scope of an RPA?
A. Work that migrates fully into the mission of another NIH institute or center would be considered out of scope and not appropriate for pursuit through the RPA. Changes in scope could include, for example, the addition of or a change in the approved use of human subjects, vertebrate animals, select agents or human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). Such changes require prior approval by NINDS before the work is initiated. However, such changes in scope can be approved with appropriate documentation. Please refer to the NIH Grants Policy Statement for additional guidance (NIH GPS 220.127.116.11)
Q. How can I decide if RPA is right for my circumstances?
A. Ask yourself how much time and effort it takes you to maintain the current NINDS funding of your laboratory through multiple, separate grant applications. Decide whether consolidation of your projects at something close to your average level of NINDS support is worth the advantages provided by the RPA program, which includes up to eight years of stable funding. Consult with your current Program Director for additional guidance.
II. Award Information
Q. How many RPAs does NINDS expect to award in FY 2017?
A. This depends on the number and cost of meritorious applications. NINDS estimates that as many as 30 awards will be made.
Q. What is the anticipated average award size for this FOA?
A. This depends on the current funding levels of the eligible investigators who apply for RPA, their requested budgets and the recommendations of study sections, the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council and NINDS staff.
Q. What is the maximum allowable budget?
A. Applicants may request up to a maximum of $750,000 direct costs per year; however, the requested RPA budget should be commensurate with the investigator’s recent level of NINDS support. That level of support must be calculated using the average direct cost total for the 4 most recent years (i.e. 2013 - 2016) from all NINDS research project grants (RPGs) that will be folded into the R35 award; it should not include funding that is exempt from R35 fold in (see FOA). RPAs will be awarded for no less than $350K DC, and RPA awards for PDs/PIs earlier in their career (≤ 15 years from their terminal degree) may be somewhat larger than the investigator’s recent level of support, as it is anticipated that these individuals are still in the growth phase of their careers. Barring these exceptions, only in very rare and extremely well-justified circumstances will awards exceed the most recent 4 year funded average of NINDS grants subject to be folded in (i.e. 2013 – 2016). Applications with budgets more than 20% over the 4 year average described above will be considered non-compliant to this FOA and will be withdrawn prior to their review. PDs/PIs are encouraged to discuss their proposed budgets / projects with NINDS program staff prior to submission.
Q. I have an application that received a score within the NINDS payline that was reviewed by the NINDS Council at the February 2017 meeting. How will this To Be Paid grant impact my R35 budget if it receives a fundable score?
A. No pending support (e.g. grants going to February Council 2017 or later) will be factored into the final budget of your RPA.
Q. Who is eligible to apply?
A. This FOA is intended to test the RPA concept in a carefully controlled way with a well-defined, manageably-sized cohort of potential applicants. The FOA targets only those investigators who received one or more R01-equivalent awards (defined here as R00, R01, R37, R56, DP1 or DP2 awards) from NINDS, with support for one or more of their awards expiring in FY 2017 or FY 2018 (October 1, 2016 - September 30, 2018). For the purposes of this announcement only investigators with grants meeting the above criteria are eligible to apply. Examples of activities that are not considered R01 equivalents include U01, P01/P50s.
a. My grant is on a No Cost Extension (NCE). Am I still eligible to apply?
Grants in a no cost extension remain active and expire at the end of the no cost extension period; however only one NCE is permitted to establish eligibility. That is, a grant cannot go into a 2nd NCE to establish an FY17 end date, nor can two NCEs be used to demonstrate 5 years of continuous NINDS funding.
b. At some point in the previous five years, my grant was either in a NCE or I had an NINDS R56 award. Do I still qualify has having had continuous NINDS support for the last five years?
Yes. Continuous support from NINDS on an active R01 equivalent grant (including those on a NCE or R56) qualifies as five years of consecutive support.
c. Why are U01s being excluded from eligibility consideration?
U01s involve substantial NIH staff involvement which would be difficult to incorporate into an RPA.
d. One of my current grants is equivalent in budget and scope to an R01 grant (e.g., U01, U10, P50, P01, a sub-project of a Program Project Grant, etc.) but is not the specified R01-equivalent type identified in the FOA. Am I eligible to apply?
As specified in the FOA, grant types for R01-equivalent awards are limited to only the R00, R01, R37, R56, DP1, and DP2 mechanisms.
e. If I am a PD/PI on a multi-PD/PI R01, am I eligible to apply?
Yes, but investigators who receive an RPA will be required to relinquish their other NINDS funding. In the case of multiple-PD/PI awards, they will relinquish their financial interest in the MPI award but will be expected to continue the collaboration according to the approved leadership plan, using support from RPA.
Q. What is the definition of a PD/PI on a NINDS grant in the context of “received continuous R01 or R01 equivalent grant support from NINDS for at least the past 5 years”?
A. You must be listed as the PD/PI on the Notice of Award (NoA) of an NINDS grant to be considered the PD/PI. You must have been funded continuously in each of the past five consecutive years at the time of application submission.
Q. Are individuals at all stages of their careers eligible?
A. This FOA targets investigators with one or more R01 or R01-equivalent awards from NINDS who have been continuously funded for at least the past five years. Investigators at all career stages that meet the eligibility requirements are encouraged to apply for the RPA.
Q. May two or more scientists apply as a team for an NINDS RPA?
A. No. This FOA is an initial test of the RPA concept. It is intended to provide support for the research program of a single independent, investigator.
Q. Are women and members of underrepresented groups encouraged to apply?
A. Yes. Women and members of underrepresented groups who meet the other eligibility requirements are strongly encouraged to apply.
Q. Are scientists in the NIH intramural research program eligible to apply?
A. No. NIH intramural research program scientists are not eligible to apply. A RPA application can include collaboration with an intramural scientist, but no funds can be provided to the intramural laboratory via the RPA. RPAs will not be converted to cooperative agreements; therefore, if involvement with an intramural lab is a substantial part of the investigator's research program, a RPA may not be a suitable means of support.
Q. Are individuals who have support from sources other than NINDS eligible to apply?
A. Yes. Individuals may have support from other NIH components or from other sources, provided they meet all other eligibility requirements and are able to commit at 6 person months (i.e., the equivalent of 50% effort on for a full-year appointment, 66.67% on a 9-month appointment, or 100% on a 6-month appointment) to the RPA throughout the duration of the award period. Also note that the level of outside support will be taken into account in determining the RPA budget.
Q. Are Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators eligible to apply for RPA? What about individuals with other types of substantial, unrestricted laboratory grant support?
A. Yes. HHMI investigators are eligible to apply for RPA, provided they are able to commit 6 person months (i.e., the equivalent of 50% effort on for a full-year appointment, 66.67% on a 9-month appointment, or 100% on a 6-month appointment) to the RPA throughout the duration of the award period. The relationship between the work supported by HHMI and the work to be supported by NINDS must be carefully explained, but need not be separated into different projects and different specific aims. However, study sections, the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council and NINDS staff will take total support, including PD/PI salary support from HHMI into account when considering the appropriate budget level of RPA. Investigators with other types of substantial, unrestricted laboratory support will be similarly considered on a case-by-case basis.
Q. Can I submit an application for continuation of my current NINDS grant support and apply for RPA at the same time?
A. Yes. You can submit a competing continuation in parallel to your R35 application; however if both applications receive meritorious scores only one of these applications will supported. Moreover, pending support (even with scores within the NINDS payline) will not be factored into your final RPA award budget should it be selected for support.
Q. The initial four years of support on my Javits award expire in FY17 or FY18. Am I eligible to submit an R35?
A. Yes. You can submit an RPA application concurrently with your Type 4 extension application. Your RPA application should incorporate the work done through your Javits award.
Q. If I have an appointment at more than one institution, can I apply for a separate RPA through each institution?
A. No. An investigator can only receive one RPA award, which should be submitted by the institution where he or she primarily conducts his or her research program. Under rare circumstances, a subcontract may be permitted to support a part of the research program that is based at a different domestic institution.
Q. Can I get a definitive determination of my eligibility prior to submitting an application to this Request for Application (RFA)?
A. No. NINDS staff can give you advice on eligibility; however, applications are evaluated for eligibility by the Receipt and Referral Office at the NIH Center for Scientific Review based on the criteria stated in the FOA.
Q. Is there a limit on the number of applications that can be submitted by an institution? By a PD/PI?
A. There is no limit on the number of applications that can be submitted by an institution, provided they are for support of the research programs of different independent investigators. A PD/PI may submit only one application for RPA.
Q. Can I get advice on my ideas for submission of a RPA application?
A. You may discuss your ideas with the program contact named in the FOA or with the program director(s) who administers your current NINDS applications and awards.
Q. What became of the specific aims section of the grant application?
A. Specific aims are not required as the goal of RPA is to move the scientific enterprise away from a focus on narrowly defined projects with highly tailored specific aims and to refocus attention on the big picture and overall impact of the research.
Q. What format should the application follow?
A. Follow the instructions in the SF424 R&R application guide as modified by the instructions in the FOA. In brief, this means that the scientific content of the application will rely mainly on the abstract, facilities and other resources page, biosketch and the six page research strategy, plus details on the involvement of human subjects and vertebrate animals as necessary. Avoid duplicating material covered in other sections. Do not include lists of publications, except as part of the biosketch, or references as necessary in the Bibliography & References Cited section of the Other Project Information Form. Provide current and pending research support information at the time of application using the format typically used for Just-in-Time information. Be sure to distinguish the direct costs per year that support research in the investigator's laboratory from support that goes to other investigators.
Q. Why is the Research Strategy Section only six pages?
A. Because of changes in the biosketch, much of the needed information about the recent past research contributions of the investigator can be presented there, rather than in the research plan. Also because the goal of RPA is to focus investigator and reviewer attention on the higher level questions about significance and impact of the research program, details in the research plan can be reduced.
Q. What may I include in the appendix?
A. Appendix materials are limited to the same items as for other NIH grant mechanisms. Do not use the appendix to circumvent the page limits. See NOT-OD-11-080.
Q. Should I submit letters of support?
A. The application must include a letter from the institution’s Authorized Organizational Official (AOR) indicating that they are aware of and accept the condition that other NINDS research awards must be relinquished as a condition of receiving a RPA and providing a statement that if chosen to receive an award, the PD/PI will commit a minimum of 6 person months (as described above) throughout the duration of the RPA. Letters of support should be included for all collaborators.
Q. In the absence of specific aims, how do I conceptualize and prepare a non-modular budget?
A. The requested budget should include information for costs related to accomplishing the Research Strategy proposed in the application. Given that the NINDS RPA will generally fold in an investigator’s current research projects, the requested budget should reflect the budgetary needs for the current research.
Q. Can I request money for equipment in the budget?
A. Yes. You may request money for equipment in the first year and in any subsequent years with appropriate justification. Bear in mind that such requests should be accommodated within a budget that is commensurate with the overall NINDS grant support of the laboratory in recent years. This is not intended as a mechanism to acquire "big-ticket" items that may be covered under instrument-specific funding opportunities.
Q. Can I continue to work with my current collaborators, including foreign collaborators?
A. Yes. NINDS strongly endorses collaborative research. However, as the RPA concept is based on the idea that NINDS will provide support to individual investigators and their laboratories, Multi-PD/PI applications are not appropriate for the RPA. When necessary, collaborators will be expected to work together because of their mutual interest in a problem, and not through a subcontract. This applies to foreign collaborations as well. NINDS will accept applications with a foreign collaboration, but will not provide funding for foreign consortium arrangements.
Q. Can I include a consortium contract for a collaborator?
A. Yes, but such requests must be extremely well justified. NINDS continues to encourage collaborative and interdisciplinary research when it is appropriate, and individual RPA grantees are free to collaborate with one another or with other investigators using funds from their individual grants to support their parts of the team's research. A letter from the subcontract PD/PI should be included, making it clear why he or she cannot participate in collaborative research with the PD/PI without support from RPA.
Q. Who, if anyone, in addition to the PD/PI should be listed as "key personnel"?
A. Key personnel include any other individuals who contribute to the scientific development or execution of a project in a substantive, measurable way, whether or not they receive salaries or compensation under the grant. Typically, these individuals have doctoral or other professional degrees, although individuals at the master's or baccalaureate level may be considered senior/key personnel if their involvement meets this definition. Consultants and those with a postdoctoral role also may be considered senior/key personnel if they meet this definition. Senior/key personnel must devote measurable effort to the project whether or not salaries or compensation are requested. "Zero percent" effort or "as needed" are not acceptable levels of involvement for those designated as senior/key personnel.
Q. How will support of other senior/key personnel (co-PD/PIs) be considered?
A. Senior/key personnel who are independent investigators can contribute effort toward RPA. They may receive support from the award, but only if they do not also receive support from their own RPA award.
Q. Who will be the scientific point of contact for my RPA application?
A. For this initial FOA, Dr. David Owens (Acting Deputy Director of Extramural Research, NINDS) will serve as the initial point of contact for questions about the FOA. Should you wish to discuss scientific aspects of your application, you should contact your current NINDS program officer. Once applications are received, they will be referred to the most relevant program official based on internal NINDS referral procedures and guidelines. The program official assigned to your application should be visible to you in the Commons by the time the application is reviewed and the name and contact information for the program official should appear at the top of the summary statement.
Q. How will responses to this FOA be reviewed?
A. Reviews will be by special emphasis panels organized by the NINDS Scientific Review Branch. The name and contact information for the scientific review official assigned to the application will be posted in the Commons once the assignment has been made.
Q. What is the timeline for application, review and award?
A. Applications received by March 2017 will be reviewed in June 2017 for consideration by the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council in September 2017, with the earliest possible awards beginning in December 2017.
Q. Will the reviewers have expertise in the subject area of my application?
A. Yes. NINDS will ensure that reviewers have the relevant expertise to review the application, bearing in mind that RPA is intended to support a broad program of research and the breadth of research areas that are encompassed by the NINDS mission. Thus, reviewers will be expected to bring a broad perspective rather than detailed expertise.
Q. How will the review process for RPA differ from that for regular R01 research grant applications?
A. For this FOA, reviewers will be asked to provide a single overall impact score and not to provide individual criterion scores. This is intended to shift emphasis away from details of the application and the approach, and to emphasize the potential impact of the investigator's research program on the field. Reviewers will be provided with information about the applicant’s funding history and asked to comment on whether or not the budget requested in the RPA reflects the current scope of the investigator’s research support from NINDS.
Q. How do the review criteria differ from those for a regular R01 research grant application?
A. The review criteria are the same, but the wording has been modified to emphasize the review of the investigator's overall NINDS-relevant research program rather than a specific, narrowly-focused project with highly tailored specific aims. Reviewers should emphasize RPA-specific aspects of significance, investigator qualifications, innovation, approach and environment.
Q. How will the study section arrive at a budget recommendation?
A. Reviewers will be asked to consider whether the budget and the requested period of support are fully justified and reasonable in relation to the proposed work. In answering this question, it is anticipated that reviewers will consider the past productivity of the investigator's laboratory in areas relevant to the NINDS mission, given the resources at the laboratory's disposal, evidence of efficient use of funds in the past and likelihood of efficient use of funds in the future. Reviewers will not be asked to recommend specific, detailed budget cuts. Rather, reviewers will consider whether the budget and the requested period of support are fully justified and reasonable in relation to both the proposed research program and the PD/PIs recent level of NINDS support (i.e. 2013 – 2016). If the proposed budget exceeds the current level of support, reviewers will consider whether there are exceptional circumstances that justify the increased level of support". Applications requesting budgets more than 20% over the 4 year average will be considered non-compliant to this FOA and will not be reviewed.
Q. Can I appeal the review of my RPA application?
A. No. This FOA is a one-time request for applications that does not offer an opportunity to re-review the application if an appeal were successful. Therefore, be sure to inform NINDS of any potential reviewer conflicts in a cover letter included with the application at the time of submission.
Q. If my application for RPA is not funded, will I be able to prepare a resubmission?
A. No, but you may be eligible to submit a new application to another RPA FOA in future fiscal years.
Q. How does the NIH Special Council Review policy apply to RPA?
A. In August 2012, NIH implemented a policy whereby applications from investigators whose overall research support (including an award for the pending application) exceed $1 million per year in direct costs, would be subjected to additional scrutiny by the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council prior to funding. RPA applications from well-funded laboratories will be subjected to these policies.
Q. What will be Council involvement in the second level peer review of RPA applications?
A. RPA applications in response to this FOA will be made available to the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council in the same way as other applications. They will be presented and discussed as a group. Council members will be free to comment on any particular application and will vote to approve applications for potential funding.
Q. How will NINDS fold current multiple-PD/PI awards and subprojects of multicomponent awards such as P01s and P50s into the new R35 award?
A. Investigators who receive an RPA will be required to relinquish their other NINDS funding. In the case of multiple-PD/PI awards, they will relinquish their financial interest in the award but will be expected to continue the collaboration with support from RPA. This transition may be made at the end of a current budget period. The budget of the R01, P01, P50, etc. would be appropriately adjusted to reflect the cessation of support from the multiple-PD/PI award whenever that occurs. Investigators supported by RPA are expected to continue as associated investigators of the continuing P01 or P50 and thus be expected to interact with the other subproject investigators and to have access to the P01 or P50 cores.
Q. Will a change of PI/PI be allowed?
A. A permanent change of PD/PI will not be allowed, as RPA is intended to support the research program of a single independent investigator. A temporary change may be allowed with prior approval under circumstances such as sabbatical leave, medical conditions, disability or personal or family situations such as child or eldercare needs.
Q. What happens if the PD/PI becomes unable to carry out the duties as PD/PI or will be absent for more than 3 months at a time for any reason?
A. Standard NIH and NINDS policies will be applied.
Q. Will a change of grantee institution be allowed?
A. Standard NIH and NINDS policies will be applied, provided that the receiving institution agrees to all of the required terms of the RPA.
Q. What, if anything, will be different about the annual reporting required for RPA?
A. Annual reports will be required using the Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR). The FOA includes some additional instructions consistent with the broader goals of the research program supported by RPA and the absence of detailed specific aims. Additional information is requested that relates any new program directions to the NINDS research mission, discussion of how the work continues to be innovative and of high impact, and the relationship of any new other support to the activities supported by RPA.
Q. What changes will require prior approval?
A. There are no changes to standard NIH policy on prior approval requirements. Prior approval is needed for the following:
• A change in scope including but not limited to, a change from the approved used of vertebrate animals or involvement of human subjects, select agents or human embryonic stem cells
• Late notification of an initial no cost extension
• Change in status of the PD/PI or senior/key personnel named in the Notice of Award
• Change in grantee organization or organization status
Q. How will NINDS manage overlap with other grants that may be awarded after the initial RPA?
A. Changes in other support should be reported in the RPPR. The relationship between other support and work supported by RPA should be explained. NINDS will assess whether there is sufficient scientific and budgetary overlap to warrant adjustment of the RPA.
Q. Will carryover of an unobligated balance from one budget period to another be permitted?
A. Standard NIH and NINDS policies will be applied.
Q. Will RPAs be eligible for administrative supplements? Competitive supplements?
A. RPAs will be eligible for Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research and other types of administrative supplements, including equipment supplements that may be offered by NINDS through notices in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. Competitive supplemental applications (revisions) may be accepted in response to FOAs that may be issued in the future to support increases in scope beyond the ability of the investigator to accommodate through reprioritization of their existing resources (e.g., addition of human subjects); however, generally awardees will be expected to reallocate existing resources to accommodate new research directions.
Q. How will NINDS handle changes in senior/key personnel on a RPA?
A. Senior/key personnel named in the notice of award may be replaced or eliminated from the budget with prior approval. Applicants should report such changes in their annual progress reports and should include plans for the utilization of the funds to support the overall effort of the laboratory. Persons not named in the notice of award can be replaced without prior approval.
Q. How will receipt of support from RPA effect the eligibility of co-PD/PIs to receive other grants?
A. Senior/key personnel other than the PD/PI may receive support from other awards, including other RPA awards on which they are also not the PD/PI. Independent investigators who receive any support from more than one NINDS grant are encouraged to consider consolidating their support by applying for a RPA application when they become eligible under future FOAs.