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Funding Biomedical Research Programs: Contributions of the Markey Trust
THE SELECTION PROCESS USED BY THE MARKEY TRUST AND THE NATURE OF AWARDS MADE DIFFERED FROM THOSE OF THE NIH AND NSF
The selection process used by Markey Trustees was considerably different from that used by public funders of basic biomedical research. Rather than a peer-review system that is repeated on an annual basis, Markey Trustees solicited and invited elite and proven researchers to submit ideas for research proposals. Investigators whose proposals interested the Trustees were asked to revise and resubmit their proposals. For some investigators, this entailed multiple iterations to develop a proposal that fit the Trustee’s criteria. In such cases, the Trust staff worked with potential grantees to fine-tune proposals. These criteria are detailed in the section “Selection of Research Program Grants” earlier in this report.
During its initial planning meetings and at the two think-tank meetings, the Trust established the grant mechanism as the vehicle for distribution of most of its fund. More than $325 million was given to an elite cadre of proven investigators with a high likelihood of success. Success can be measured by examining the characteristics of recipient investigators and institutions and comparing them with the criteria for funding mandated by the Trustees. Within this report, Appendix A provides descriptions of all Research Program Grants recipients. An additional approach to examining the success of the selection process is to examine the outcomes of the recipient investigators and institutions. It is possible in a very general way to say that Markey funds were used to support infrastructure, recruit faculty, support postdocs, and to fund research. The committee utilized analysis of progress reports to assess the outcomes of the Research Program Grants recipients. Finally, another approach to determining the excellence of awardees is to determine the amount of competition or the “success rate” of Research Program Grants applications, which is the probability of any individual applicant receiving an award. In addition, the Markey success rate can then be compared to that of other funders of basic biomedical research.
During its lifetime, the Trust received 792 proposals for Research Program Grants that were deemed of sufficient quality to be reviewed by the director for medical science and/or senior consultants. The success rate for Research Program Grants made by the Markey Trust was 12 percent. This was considerably lower that the 47 percent acceptance rate for research program projects (P01 awards) and the 27 percent of traditional research project grants (R01 awards) funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) during the same years (NIH, 2004). For the National Science Foundation (NSF), the success rate for grants in the Directorate of Biological Sciences during the interval ranged from 23 to 30 percent.