Report from the NIGMS Committee Examining Possible Update of the MBRS SCORE Program


The mission of the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) Program of NIGMS is "to increase the numbers of minority faculty, students, and investigators engaged in biomedical research and to broaden the opportunities for participation in biomedical research of minority faculty, students, and investigators, by providing general support for biomedical research programs at eligible institutions." In 1996-1997 and following the creation of the MORE Division, the MBRS programs were revamped into the current Support of Continuous Research Excellence (SCORE), Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE), and Initiative for Minority Student Development (IMSD). Although these revisions improved program accountability and separated research funding from student development, they were not fully upgraded to meet the changing needs of the national biomedical research endeavor and the variety of minority-serving institutions (MSI) that are eligible for MBRS support.

The current SCORE Program resembles the original MBRS research program in that it supports meritorious, investigator-initiated research projects from a wide range of scientific disciplines submitted as part of a program project. The number of subprojects may range from 1 to 28 subprojects and pilot projects per grant, and eligible institutions vary considerably in size, resources and research capabilities from small, non-research intensive ones to very large, research-intensive ones. Given this diversity in the SCORE Program, it is important to periodically examine it and seek ways by which the program structure and management might be modified to most effectively serve the changing research development needs of the varied participant institutions and the individual research investigators. This is the goal of the current assessment of the structure and management of the MBRS SCORE mechanism by NIGMS.

The re-examination of the SCORE Program was done by an internal committee with representation from the scientific divisions, scientific review office, grants management, and budget office at NIGMS. The re-examination of the SCORE Program was performed with the goal of making recommendations for upgrading the program to:

  1. increase access of MSI investigators to the scientific and administrative resources at NIGMS and categorical institutes of NIH and ultimately to increase the number of investigators at MSI involved in biomedical research, and
  2. enhance their potential to access the more extensive research support available from non-MBRS sources, thereby increasing the biomedical research capabilities of MSI.

The above major goal was approached with three aims in mind and taking into consideration the Congressional mandate for MBRS:

  1. To provide a centralized support mechanism that offers program directors greater opportunities to focus their efforts on more global development of research potential at their institutions. This mechanism would seek the enhancement of the institutional research environment and infrastructure to facilitate the research efforts of individual investigators.
  2. To devise types of funding mechanisms that are better suited to the career development needs of investigators and more sensitive to the differing levels of research intensity at the varied MSI. This would include support for development of initial research endeavors, support for lower intensity but highly competitive projects that maintain and/or enhance the institutional research environment, and where appropriate, support for larger, more intensive research projects to provide MSI investigators with an opportunity to develop research programs that can compete for support from non-MORE sources.
  3. To provide individual MBRS investigators with review feedback and the opportunity to interact directly with appropriate program staff having scientific expertise most relevant to their research.

Recommendations of the Committee

To achieve the above goals, the general approach recommended is to replace the current single application with an institutional/administrative application prepared by a program director and three types of research applications that can be submitted separately by individual investigators. This uncoupling of the SCORE components would allow the program director to focus on and provide vision for development of the global institutional research effort and the principal investigators of the subprojects to independently pursue and develop their research programs and interact directly with NIGMS/NIH scientific staff. The committee’s specific recommendations are presented in more detail below.

  1. Grant Mechanisms
    1. Institutional Research Development and SupportProgram: S06

      The program director of the Institutional Research Development and Support Program will develop and implement a global institutional plan aimed at future development as well as maintenance of the research infrastructure and environment in support of the individual researchers at the home institution. The plan must have measurable objectives that will be coupled with an evaluation program to measure the success of the program in meeting its goals.

      The S06 or the Institutional Research Development and Support Program must build on the research capabilities of the institution and be designed to enhance and serve the needs of the research community at the institution. In developing institutional goals, the program director must be cognizant of available resources and needs, as well as the research efforts and potential of the faculty members at the institution. Measures of progress in reaching goals and achievements, and plans for the future of the program would be important aspects of this component as well as the view of how this component fits into the overall institutional effort to enhance research capabilities. A degree of innovation would be one important criterion for this component.

      Responsibilities under this component could include central administrative/financial management/clerical support for the investigators. The program director should be the institutional liaison to Federal funding agencies; become a source of current information on research funding opportunities, policies, and guidelines; and encourage and facilitate potential investigators in seeking such support. Other responsibilities for this component could include scientific core facilities, shared equipment, internal and external research seminars, and scientific and grant preparation workshops/symposia. Additionally, in institutions that lack a sponsored programs or grants/contracts office, support for a grants manager could be provided. These functions will have to be justified, and an explanation on how they fit into the overall institutional internally- and externally-funded research efforts will need to be provided. Thus, the program director will have a key role in formulating and managing the Institutional Research Development and Support Program and will contribute to the development and management of the institution’s overall research effort.

      The S06 mechanism would be for a total of 4 years and would be renewable. It would allow an institution to hold one such award and this would be capped at $100,000, excluding core equipment. Requests for core equipment must be highly justified in the context of the institution’s development plan and based on shared use.

      Review Criteria for the S06 Institutional Research Development and Support Program

      For this award, the merit (vision, appropriateness, quality of organization) of the proposed administration (director/structure) and activities, and the plan for their implementation and evaluation would be key review criteria. Research projects/grants would be considered in a general manner as to how well they are planned to fit into the overall effort to implement, develop, and evaluate the institutional plan for the research infrastructure/environment.

      For renewals, key criteria will be progress accomplished and how future plans utilize evaluation of past efforts in proposing to continue to promote an intellectual research environment for the institution and the investigators.

    2. Investigator-Initiated Research Projects: S01, S15, and S03

      This MBRS research component would allow each researcher to submit an investigator-initiated research proposal directly to NIH. To meet the varied needs of the MBRS community, three types of research projects are suggested. They will be peer reviewed by committees administered by the NIGMS Office of Scientific Review. Applicants from eligible institutions could submit grant applications for these S awards at any point, but could apply for only one type of award in a round, and could never have more than one S award at a time. Individual submission of applications will allow investigators to more directly interact with review and program staff. A bonus to NIGMS will be a significant workload reduction especially for review and grants management staff under this arrangement and the possibility for improvements in the efficiency of the review, program, and grants management processes for MBRS grants.
      1. S01

        This would be similar to an R01 application. This award would be for investigators with high potential or established research programs seeking sufficient support to develop nationally competitive research projects and transition to non-MBRS research support. The expectations in terms of scope and productivity for this award would be similar to that for an R01. Significant productivity and peer-reviewed publications would be expected, and the research should develop to compete nationally for non-MBRS sources of Federal and foundation support. The S01 would be a 4-year award that could be renewed once. The budget request should be modular in steps of $25,000 and similar in size to an average R01 award. The expectation for these awards is that within or by the end of the 8 years of possible support, the potential of the research program to receive non-MBRS support would be evident based on grant submission and review by the Center for Scientific Review or similar research review groups.

        Since the S01 award would be limited to one renewal, interaction with appropriate scientific staff is critical for investigators to transition to non-MBRS support. Additionally, funding of a first R01 application from an MBRS investigator may be an area where NIGMS could set some specific priorities, especially if the investigator’s potential to sustain independent research is evident.

        Review Criteria for the S01 Award
        The criteria would be essentially the same used for R01 reviews, with the addition of an assessment of how well the research is planned and developed to allow for the transition to non-MBRS support.

      2. S15

        This would be a smaller fixed cost award, similar to an AREA award. The expectations in terms of scope and productivity for this award would be more modest than the S01, and the aim for these awards is to develop and maintain a research environment at the home institution. This would be a 4-year renewable award for investigators who desire to maintain a research program of modest scope that fits better with available institutional resources, their career status, and their teaching or other institutional responsibilities. The award would be $50,000/year. The applicant should provide a clear rationale for seeking this type of award. The continuation of the project would depend on an appropriate degree of productivity (peer-reviewed publications) and that the research evolves and remains current and significant.

        In general, the committee believed that, as proposed, the S15 mechanism is sufficient and would meet the very important aim of developing and contributing to maintenance of a research-oriented environment and community at the home institution that could benefit student training. However, it offers no strong incentive for the S15 investigator to seek non-MBRS research support. If such an incentive is deemed to be the dominant goal for all MBRS research support, then an alternative approach could be to limit the lifetime of the S15; e.g., it could be renewed only once, and the expectation would be that the investigators seek non-MBRS support.

        Review Criteria for the S15 Award
        The review criteria for the S15 application would be similar to those for an R01, but the expectations for scope and productivity would be adjusted to the smaller scale of the project similar to the review of AREA grants. Continued support would require productivity, some level of peer-reviewed publication, and continued development of research that is well designed, current, and scientifically significant.

      3. S03

        The smallest mechanism would be a two-year, non-renewable, fixed-cost award for pilot projects ($35,000/year) that have limited focused goals. These awards would be for gathering preliminary data and establishing proof of feasibility for new projects. The expectation is that based on the results of 2 years of study, a successful pilot project would provide the foundation for submission of a more substantial research application either to NIH or other funding source.

        Review Criteria for the S03 Award
        The S03 application will be evaluated using the usual NIH review criteria, but the focus will be on the merit of the problem and the feasibility of the approach in terms of providing limited, but critical and clear data that would lead to establishment of a research program.
  2. Interaction with NIGMS and other NIH Program Staff

    The basis for the recommendations offered below is that the professional growth of the S01 investigators would benefit most from interactions with NIGMS program staff having appropriate expertise. The other grant mechanisms, such as the institutional award, S15, and S03, could be best managed by MORE staff.

    S01 applications, being the most research intensive and aimed at gaining access to non-MORE support, would be assigned to NIGMS program staff based on scientific expertise. A MORE program staff member would also be assigned to provide advice/assistance more specific to SCORE program issues.

    For the S15 and S03 grants, non-MORE program staff could serve as scientific advisors or consultants on an as-needed basis to the MORE personnel. Program staff would identify areas of scientific expertise where they could be available in varied levels of advisory capacity to MORE program directors and to MBRS applicants/grantees. In this regard their scientific expertise may be wider than that used for their usual program responsibilities.

    The scope of the MBRS applications needs to be refocused to reflect the biomedical and behavioral areas of interest to NIH. This would avoid the need for the search of “outside advisors” from other agencies for projects in scientific areas outside of NIH program staff expertise.

    Grants transferable to other NIH categorical institutes may need to be limited to the S01 mechanism. Once they are transferred, NIGMS would no longer take responsibility for grant funding, scientific administration, or subsequent review, thus eliminating the need for a co-funding process. Again this offers the opportunity for simplification of MBRS funding processes.

NIGMS Committee Roster

Jean Chin, Ph.D., Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics

Anthony Carter, Ph.D., Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology

Alison Cole, Ph.D., Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry

Antoinette Holland, Grants Management Office

Nancy Vess, Budget Office 

Paula Kuykendall Powell, Budget Office 

Ann Hagan, Ph.D., Division of Extramural Activities

Shiva Singh, Ph.D., Office of Scientific Review

Arthur Zachary, Ph.D., Office of Scientific Review

Hinda Zlotnik, Ph.D., Division of Minority Opportunities in Research


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