Grant Overlap

May 19, 2011

Should you be so lucky to be awarded a new NIH grant, one of the things you have to do right before the award is made is to report to them your sources of Other Support. Meaning an accounting of all your other research funding. One of the things that you have to address is “Overlap”, meaning the degree to which the new award and one of your existing awards proposes to do the exact same research. This is not uncommon and a question at writedit’s blog pleads for help in addressing overlap so as to avoid any reduction in the budget of a new award.

For this project, currently I have a small foundation grant ($100K for 2 years) and I am one year into it. Though the goals and approach are very similar on paper, the scope of the two projects are very different because of the money and duration. How do I report my current funding without getting budget slashed? Do I have to report the ‘overlap’ quantitatively (% overlap) or qualitatively (pilot vs detailed project etc) in my funding list?

Not too unusual, particularly for newly appointed Assistant Professors, right? They are cobbling together little bits of research support in the beginning that allows them to generate the Preliminary Data that are necessary for the NIH R01 proposal to sail through to funding. So it would not be at all strange that at some point there will be a lot of apparent (and actual) overlap between smaller, foundation-type grants and the big R01 proposal.

My prior experience suggests that it is really not that hard to deal with potential overlap and that NIH Program Officers aren’t too hard-case about the issue. They are just looking for a general response, not a point-by-point (or dollar-by-dollar) accounting. They understand that foundation and local awards are the seeds of Preliminary Data. Times change, of course, so it is always worth seeking other experiences and opinions.

My generic advice is to talk about the research progress and not worry so much about specific experiments. Point out what was proposed in your new grant that is already funded by the foundation grant. Roughly. Although in some cases, depending on how y0u wrote your pending NIH proposal, I suppose you might want to reference specific experiments.

Then, outline what you are going to do with the “saved” money and how this will enhance the project *as proposed*. This is important. Your goal, after all, is to preserve your original budget as proposed. You can say things such as“This will allow me to hire an undergrad for the summer.” Or perhaps, “The postdoc proposed for 50% time will now be 75% time…” Perhaps you are going to buy some bling-bling equipment that is going to speed many of your proposed experiments.

The goal is to write something that suggests you will able to do better without stating that you had a compromise in the original budget, if you see what I mean. A couple of additional experiments might be okay but be wary of venturing too far outside of the scope of what has been peer reviewed (in the eyes of the PO). This makes them very nervous.

 

Any other thoughts Dear Reader? How do you phrase your Overlap excuses?

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No Responses Yet to “Grant Overlap”

  1. CPP Says:

    This is terrible advice. You simply state that there is no overlap between the studies you have used and will use the funds of the foundation grant to perform and those you will use the requested funds of the pending grant to perform.

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  2. Neuropop Says:

    I agree with CPP. I was in a similar situation recently and my sponsored programs office flat out said that either I should state “There is no budgetary or scientific overlap” or have long discussions with the program officers at the foundation and NIH about the Aims. This was followed by a sermon about “two fund codes for the same project, Federal regulations etc. etc.”

    One way to ensure that there is no duplication of “effort” and reduction of funding is to negotiate with the foundation to modify the Aims and eliminate overlap (which is what we did.) Then all statements made in the JIT are factually correct. Frequently, foundation grants are made to facilitate the collection of preliminary data for an R01 or the like. So they are often amenable to a restatement of the proposed Aims as long as they are still within the overall scope of the Foundation’s mission.

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  3. Namnezia Says:

    I agree with CPP, the vaguer you are the better. Also, it is fair to say that the scope of a private foundation award and an R01 are different, and these should be reflected in your little description you put in the Other Support section.

    The problem is when you submit the same grant to two different agencies (eg. NIH and NSF) and both get funded. Then you have to give one up.

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  4. drugmonkey Says:

    I can’t believe you all are recommending lying to the NIH about your overlap.

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  5. Fred Says:

    Can you believe the Governator lied about sticking his way-way in someone else who-who and made a ga-ga?

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  6. I can only speak for myself, but I am not recommending “lying”. I am recommending telling the truth to NIH, which is that you are not going to use the funds to support the same experiments. Regardless of any apparent overlap in the specific aims as stated in the two grants, you will obviously use the funds from the two grants to pursue different studies.

    As you are quite aware, the specific aims of a grant are not a list of experiments that the applicant is promising to perform. It is a set of broad scientific goals the applicant is planning to pursue. Those broad goals can be pursued in a wide variety of ways, and so long as the particular routes taken to those goals differ, there is no overlap that would warrant reducing the grant budget.

    Furthermore, when it comes to some piddly-shit foudnatin grant that is only $50,000 per year anyway, the last thing NIH program staff wanna read is some detailed legalistic narrative about fine-grained overlap, consequent “savings”, and some new plan about what you are gonna do with the “saved” funds. And the last thing the foundation staff want to do is “renegotiate” specific aims with you.

    Just tell the fucken truth: there is no overlap between the studies you have used and will use the funds of the foundation grant to perform and those you will use the requested funds of the pending grant to perform. This is what NIH program staff and foundation staff *want* you to do.

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  7. Namnezia Says:

    Who said anything about lying? Just because the aims may seem similar, the actual experiments aren’t.

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  8. GMP Says:

    I’m confused — don’t you submit your Current & Pending support information when you write the NIH grant? I know I have to list all of my support to NSF, DOE, and all DOD agencies when the grant is submitted, not only after it’s been awarded. If you are worried about the perceived overlap, that gets discussed in the proposal. Or am I missing something?

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  9. namnezia Says:

    GMP – the NIH does not ask for this info until after the award has been made. They probably figure they will need the most up to date info, so why ask for it twice.

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  10. GMP Says:

    Thanks, Namnezia! That’s actually pretty nice — because I know the C&P submitted at the same time as the proposal can actually hurt a person at the other agencies (you get downgraded if you are perceived to have too much money — have seen it at the NSF a number of times, or if you simply have an active NSF grant already, even if not related; also, if there is a grant whose title sounds remotely similar to the current grant, there are reviewers who can object that have already received funding for that work even though they may not overlap at all). Cool that the NIH does not require that info at submission time, ’cause I know it does influence review outcomes at (some of ) the other agencies…

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  11. drugmonkey Says:

    Not so fast, GMP, it is actually a bit more complicated.

    The Biosketch for NIH grants has a section for listing your current and previous grant support. The idea is that you can show that you have (successfully) run a grant of similar size and scope. Perhaps many of them. This goes into the assessment of how awesome is the PI.

    You are not *obliged* to list every bit of support since, as Namnezia noted, the NIH is interested in these matters only when preparing to fund the award.

    So if you had what you thought might be perceived as existing support that overlaps with the current support you might be motivated not to mention it. If you had what you think might be perceived as “too much” support (see ranting over at the OER blog Rock Talk), or perceived as having your effort too diffusely distributed, you might be motivated not to mention all of it.

    HOWEVER, if you do not list everything and a reviewer happens to know about it (or goes RePORTER-ing) there is the potential for this to backfire. If the reviewer who goes looking is inclined to worry about such things (and why else would s/he be looking, eh?), that is.

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  12. CPP Says:

    You’ve gotta have a fucken death wish not to list all current NIH support in your biosketch. Because someone *will* look at Reporter, and they *will* think you’re a sleezebagge for omitting it.

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  13. drugmonkey Says:

    Yes but what about foundation support? NSF? DoD? HHMI?

    Not always so readily available. I might Reporter it but no way would I be trying to search foundation support. Otoh, if I see a foundation grant w/ similar Aims or goals then I am going to be alerted.

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  14. Neuropop Says:

    I don’t recommend lying either. If one is worried about any making sure that all distinctions are maintained, one suggestion would be to check with the foundation whether the aims can be amended. If so, then one is clear both in spirit and in the letter. The NIH PO just wants to make sure that you aren’t “double-dipping.”

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  15. Grumble Says:

    namnezia – technically, the NIH *does* ask for overlap info before making the official award. When the institute decides it maybe might want to fund a grant, it sends a “Just In Time” request asking the PI to specify potential overlap (among other administrative requests).

    I like CPP’s philosophy: if you know you are going to use the money from two different potentially overlapping grants for different experiments, just say that. The problem is when you send pretty much exactly the same grant to a private foundation and the NIH. It might be difficult to change the experiments without changing the aims. Then, the whole bit about negotiating with the foundation to change the aims makes sense. Remember, the foundation WANTS you to get the NIH grant so you put more effort into the problem they’re interested in. They will almost certainly agree to change the aims.

    That said, I recently had exactly this issue. The NIH institute seemed quite interested in funding my grant, until I told them about the potential overlap and that I was going to change the aims of the foundation grant. The next day, my PO said it wouldn’t be funded because all of a sudden they had less money than they thought. Likely story. I’m pretty sure the real reason is that they decided that “Grumble already has the money to do these experiments,” and that in this funding climate it’s not “fair” for me to have 2 grants on the same topic (even though the topics would have been *similar*, not the *same*).

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  16. The NIH institute seemed quite interested in funding my grant, until I told them about the potential overlap and that I was going to change the aims of the foundation grant. The next day, my PO said it wouldn’t be funded because all of a sudden they had less money than they thought. Likely story. I’m pretty sure the real reason is that they decided that “Grumble already has the money to do these experiments,” and that in this funding climate it’s not “fair” for me to have 2 grants on the same topic (even though the topics would have been *similar*, not the *same*).

    This is an extremely unlikely scenario. Both the foundation *and* NIH want modest-sized foundation grants to be used as seed money to leverage into R01s.

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  17. Grumble Says:

    “This is an extremely unlikely scenario. Both the foundation *and* NIH want modest-sized foundation grants to be used as seed money to leverage into R01s.”

    Right, but in my case it seemed like from the NIH institute’s point of view, I already had the seed money from the private foundation, so they didn’t want to fund the R21. I based this conclusion on some of the PO’s comments, and I could be misinterpreting/over-reading-between-the-lines. Nevertheless, I found it remarkable how rapidly their attitude seemed to shift when they found out about the potential overlap. Coincidence? Maybe.

    To be frank, I viewed both the foundation grant and the R21 as complete shots in the dark, with little chance of success. Whaddya know, they both did well. Had I known what I know now, I would have changed the experiments in one grant ever so slightly, and then I could honestly say, as you suggested, that there is no overlap at all. Lesson learned.

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  18. drugmonkey Says:

    Wait. Did you get skipped over from within the payline?

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  19. Right, but in my case it seemed like from the NIH institute’s point of view, I already had the seed money from the private foundation, so they didn’t want to fund the R21.

    Well, duh. R21s are themselves supposed to be seed money. Investigators without substantial R01 funding have no business writing R21s.

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  20. Grumble Says:

    “Did you get skipped over from within the payline?”

    The R21 score was not good enough to be “auto-funded”, but was in the grey zone where it was clearly being considered for funding. Perhaps if the score had been better the outcome would have been different, despite the overlap issues.

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