The NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, part of the NIH Common Fund, funded 86 awards to exceptionally creative scientists proposing to use highly innovative approaches to tackle major challenges in biomedical research. The program supports high-risk ideas with high-impact potential, such as recording the history of an individual cell in its DNA for future playback; understanding how bacteria in the microbiome can share anti-drug-resistance genes among themselves; resetting the immune system to allow universal organ transplants; and reimagining clinical trials to make them more personalized and more effective.
The program accelerates scientific discovery by supporting high-risk research proposals that may not fare well in the traditional peer review process despite their potential to advance the field. Applicants of the program are encouraged to think outside-the-box and to pursue exciting, trailblazing ideas in any area of research relevant to the NIH mission.
“I continually point to this program as an example of the creative and revolutionary research NIH supports,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “The quality of the investigators and the impact their research has on the biomedical field is extraordinary.”
The NIH Common Fund supports a series of exceptionally high-impact programs that cross NIH Institutes and Centers. Common Fund programs pursue major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that require trans-NIH collaboration to succeed. As part of the NIH Common Fund, the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program manages the following four awards, including two awards aimed specifically at researchers in the early stages of their careers:
The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, established in 2004, challenges investigators at all career levels to pursue new research directions and develop groundbreaking, high-impact approaches to a broad area of biomedical or behavioral science.
The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, established in 2007, supports unusually innovative research from early career investigators who are within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency and have not yet received a research project grant or equivalent NIH grant.
The NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award, established in 2009, promotes cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches and is open to individuals and teams of investigators who propose research that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms.
The NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, established in 2011, provides an opportunity for exceptional junior scientists who have recently received their doctoral degree or completed their medical residency to skip traditional post-doctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions.
For 2017, NIH issued 12 Pioneer awards, 55 New Innovator awards, eight Transformative Research awards, and 11 Early Independence awards. The 2017 awards total approximately $263 million, pending available funds, and represent contributions from the NIH Common Fund; National Institute of General Medical Sciences; National Institute of Mental Health; National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; and National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.