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The NIH Director's New Innovator Award

This new awards program is a NIH Roadmap Initiative designed to stimulate highly innovative research projects in the behavioral and biomedical sciences.

By Nicolle Singer

On March 9, 2007 NIH Director Elias Zerhouni announced the NIH Director's New Innovator Award program. This new awards program is a NIH Roadmap Initiative designed to stimulate highly innovative research projects in the behavioral and biomedical sciences. New investigators who received their doctoral degree in 1997 or later and have not yet obtained an NIH R01 are eligible to apply. The application process emphasizes innovation and the potential contributions of the researcher, rather than preliminary data and past achievements. The application deadline for this award is May 22, 2007 and the earliest anticipated start date for a funded project is late September.

According to the New Innovator Award announcement, "This new program is intended to address both the goals of stimulating the application of innovative research approaches to important biomedical and behavioral research problems and nurturing unusually creative investigators at the early stages of their research careers."

The New Innovator Award for early-career researchers compliments two existing NIH Roadmap Initiatives: the Pioneer Awards and Pathway to Independence Awards.

Zerhouni recognizes that novel and creative research is the pathway to scientific breakthrough, and has therefore created a series of awards to encourage innovation. The NIH Director's Pioneer Award was introduced in 2004, and funds research projects that have strong potential but are too novel to have yielded widely published results. They are open to investigators at any career level, regardless of whether past funding has been received from NIH. Applications were due in January for this year's program.

Similarly, in 2006 Zerhouni announced the NIH Pathway to Independence Awards, to facilitate the rocky transition from being a mentored postdoctoral scholar to being an independent researcher directing a research lab. Applications for this program are accepted three times per year for review cycles.

All three of these awards fund what is generally considered to be high-risk research. Namely, projects that "may be too novel, span too diverse a range of disciplines, or be at a stage too early to fare well in the traditional peer review process." One of the three broad goals of the NIH Roadmap is to support research that would not normally be supported through existing NIH granting mechanisms, but has great potential to contribute to health and well-being. More information about the Roadmap can be viewed on the NIH website.