Enhancing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) peer review activity implementation timeline

September 17, 2008 
MEMO TO: NIH Grantee Community
FROM: Director, NIH 
SUBJECT: Enhancing NIH Peer Review Activity Implementation Timeline

The NIH Peer Review Oversight Committee and three subgroups consisting of NIH program, review, grants management and evaluation staff have developed an initial implementation timeline for the Enhancing Peer Review activity. The recommendations that are being implemented are based on the result of the diagnostic phase and significant dialogue with both the internal and external communities regarding enhancements to the review system (please see http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov for an overview of the Enhancing Peer Review effort). I view these enhancements as progress towards ensuring the continuation of NIH’s world renowned peer review system.

Although the subgroups are continuing to work out specific details of the implementation plans, I want to share with you the first of the preliminary implementation plans for the 2009 through 2010 calendar years as follows:

Priority Area 1 - Engage the Best Reviewers

  • Improve Reviewer Retention: In 2009, new reviewers will be given additional flexibility regarding their tour of duty, and other efforts will be undertaken to improve retention of standing review members.
  • Recruit the Best Reviewers: A toolkit, incorporating best practices for recruiting reviewers, will be made available to all ICs in 2009.
  • Enhance Reviewer Training: In spring 2009, training will be available to reviewers and SROs related to the changes in peer review.
  • Allow Flexibility through Virtual Reviews: Pilots will be conducted in 2009 on the feasibility of using high-bandwidth support for review meetings to provide reviewers greater flexibility and alternatives for in-person meetings.

Priority Area 2 - Improve the Quality and Transparency of Review

  • Improve Scoring Transparency and Scale: Review criteria-based scoring on 1 to 7 scale commences in May 2009. Reviewers will provide feedback through scores and critiques for each criterion in a structured summary statement.
  • Provide Scores for Streamlined Applications: In 2009, streamlined applications will receive a preliminary score.
  • Shorten and Restructure Applications: Shorter (12-page research plan) R01 applications (with other activity codes scaled appropriately) will be restructured to align with review criteria for January 2010 receipt dates.

Priority Area 3 - Ensure Balanced and Fair Reviews across Scientific Fields and Career Stages, and Reduce Administrative Burden

  • Fund the Best Science Earlier and Reduce Need for Resubmissions:To ensure that the largest number of high quality and meritorious applications receive funding earlier and to improve system efficiency, NIH is considering separate percentiling of new and resubmitted applications and permitting one amended application.
  • Review Like Applications Together: NIH is establishing an Early Stage Investigator (ESI) designation. In 2009, NIH will evaluate clustering ESI applications for review. The same approach will be considered for clinical research applications.

Thank You
The enhancing peer review activity has been an intensive year-long effort.  Many of you have contributed valuable feedback and input and I’d like to take this opportunity to convey my appreciation and specially thank you for your input.

Updates and details will be posted at http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov and published in the monthly Extramural Nexus (subscribe at https://list.nih.gov/cgi-bin/wa?http://nexus.od.nih.gov/all/subscribe/=extramuralnexus&A=1) as they are known. Also, several notices will be posted in the NIH Guide detailing specific elements of this implementation.

Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.