National Institutes of Health research project grant inflation 1998 to 2021

  1. Michael S Lauer  Is a corresponding author
  2. Joy Wang
  3. Deepshikha Roychowdhury
  1. National Institutes of Health, United States


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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Anonymized source data (in Excel and .RData formats) have been provided as supplementary files. R markdown source code for the main paper and the appendix corresponds with all numbers, tables, and figures. There are no restrictions to use.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Michael S Lauer

    Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-9217-8177
  2. Joy Wang

    Office of Extramural Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Deepshikha Roychowdhury

    Office of Extramural Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.


All authors are employees of the National Institutes of Health and prepared this manuscript as part of their official duties.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Clifford J Rosen, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, United States

Version history

  1. Preprint posted: October 7, 2022 (view preprint)
  2. Received: October 17, 2022
  3. Accepted: January 18, 2023
  4. Accepted Manuscript published: February 10, 2023 (version 1)
  5. Accepted Manuscript updated: February 13, 2023 (version 2)
  6. Version of Record published: March 3, 2023 (version 3)


This is an open-access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.


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  1. Michael S Lauer
  2. Joy Wang
  3. Deepshikha Roychowdhury
National Institutes of Health research project grant inflation 1998 to 2021
eLife 12:e84245.

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