In the present funding environment, many productive investigators may episodically struggle to maintain continuous grant support. At these critical time-points, shifting effort from research to clinical activities or losing key members of your research team is counter-productive to successfully competing for grant funding. To date, institutional support to cover gaps in funding, thereby bridging faculty, has been determined in a case-by-case manner without clear guiding principles or procedures. At the DOM leadership level, it is recognized that bridging will sometimes be required. Further, a more transparent and consistent process would be beneficial both for the faculty principal investigators (PIs) and for leadership. With this rationale, a formal DOM bridge funding policy has been developed. Importantly, DOM bridge funding generally cannot replace loss of NIH support; PIs should have the expectation of modest, time-limited support. The goal of this policy is to temporarily maintain PIs and programs with a high likelihood of funding success in the near future (e.g., a scored application eligible for revision).
What do other Academic Medical Centers do for Bridge Funding?
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has reviewed both published web funding policies (N=49) and directly surveyed institutions (N=67, 91% response) on bridge funding policies. Most institutions have stated a formal policy and AAMC identified three main criteria for bridge funding:
- scientific merit of the project (peer review score close to fundable; internal review committee evaluation)
- track record of PI
- financial considerations such as need to retain key research support personnel
Across schools of medicine (SOMs) surveyed nationally, almost all placed funding limits on bridge support, with 80% restricting to less than $100k; only 9% did not have a cap. More than one-third did not allow funds to be used for PI salary, but only for research related costs. Around 40% of SOM policies required matching funds by Departments. Limits on eligibility were often noted ranging from every 12-18 months for the majority of institutions up to one award per career for 18%. Limited data exist on the success rates of bridge funding programs, but the available information are favorable. Although the SOMs reporting success rates are likely to have been the most effective, the best estimate is that around two-thirds of PIs receiving bridge funding will obtain grant support in the subsequent 1-2 years and that the grant funding obtained represents around a 10-fold return on the bridge funding investment.
What is the new DOM Bridge Funding policy?
As an initial step, PIs should have explored alternative sources of funding. For NIH grants with scores close to the pay-line, PIs should discuss with their program officer the possibility of an R56 grant, the mechanism NIH uses for bridge funding. NIH also has a new program which solicits private funding for grants that have scored well but were not funded through NIH peer review (OnPAR program). Within the Hopkins community, numerous institutional awards are available which could be a source of funding (e.g., Synergy, Discovery, ATIP, Center Pilot grants). After these resources are exhausted, divisional and PI discretionary resources should be considered as a source of bridge funding. Without divisional commitment to the PI, higher level DOM/SOM support is unlikely.
After review of diverse policies nationally and in consultation with divisions and DOM leadership, the specific steps for requesting bridge funding in DOM include:
- PI obtains letter of support from division director, explaining PI’s situation, importance to the division and likelihood of successful funding in future
- PI provides a summary of prior funded and on-going research activities and delineates a clear plan for obtaining future funding. This includes providing a budget with clear justification for amount required to maintain research at reasonable level to bridge towards a successful funding outcome.
- Required utilization of DOM grant pre-review process (e.g., Peer Review Portal at https://mygrantreview.johnshopkins.edu/) for grant proposals ready for submission or resubmission. Be sure to include summary statements for resubmissions.
- Review by DOM Bridge Funding Committee with recommendation to DOM Director. Membership in this committee is rotating and will include: vice chairs for research, 1-3 senior PI faculty and 1-3 division directors (that do not have conflicts).
The level of bridging support needed by individual PIs is quite diverse (e.g., from small lab to large clinical research study). It is also recognized that there is substantial variability in divisional ability to provide bridge funding. However, bridge funding represents a creative and shared partnership between PIs, divisions, DOM and the school. In some instances, SOM may provide support. In particular, SOM may contribute to use of cores rather than providing direct funds. Negotiations for SOM resources may be assisted by utilization of a clear and rigorous departmental bridge funding process.
DOM bridge funding support will cease immediately upon the PI obtaining sponsored research funding. To evaluate this policy, we will monitor subsequent success rates and return on investment for PIs that received bridge funding. For further information regarding this policy, contact the vice chairs for research (Greg Kirk firstname.lastname@example.org or Brian O’Rourke email@example.com).
-Greg Kirk, Vice Chair for Clinical and Translational Research
-Brian O'Rourke, Vice Chair for Basic and Translational Research