We analyzed changes in total costs for National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded Research Project Grants (RPG) issued from fiscal years (FYs) 1998 to 2003. Costs are measured in 'nominal' terms, meaning exactly as stated, or in 'real' terms, meaning after adjustment for inflation. The NIH uses a data-driven price index - the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI) - to account for inflation, enabling assessment of changes in real (that is, BRDPI-adjusted) costs over time. The BRDPI was higher than the general inflation rate from FY1998 until FY2012; since then the BRDPI has been similar to the general inflation rate likely due to caps on senior faculty salary support. Despite increases in nominal costs, recent years have seen increases in the absolute numbers of RPG and R01 awards. Real average and median RPG costs increased during the NIH-doubling (FY1998 to FY2003), decreased after the doubling and have remained relatively stable since. Of note, though, the degree of variation of RPG costs has changed over time, with more marked extremes observed on both higher and lower levels of cost. On both ends of the cost spectrum, the agency is funding a greater proportion of solicited projects, with nearly half of RPG money going towards solicited projects. After adjusting for confounders, we find no independent association of time with BRDPI-adjusted costs; in other words, changes in real costs are largely explained by changes in the composition of the NIH-grant portfolio.
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All authors are employees of the National Institutes of Health and prepared this manuscript as part of their official duties.
- Clifford J Rosen, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, United States
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