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Vol. LIX, No. 17
August 24, 2007

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'We're All Ears'
NIH Meets with Stakeholders to Examine Peer Review

On the front page...

Flanked by his working group co-chairs Drs. Keith Yamamoto and Lawrence Tabak, NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni recently met with almost 200 members of the scientific community at the Doubletree Hotel in Washington, D.C., to hear comments on the NIH peer review process.

"Peer review is the foundation of NIH success," said Zerhouni. "As I travel the world, I notice how other countries want to emulate us. But no system remains the same, and peer review cannot remain high quality unless we have a transparent process. We're all ears."


The new working group the external advisory committee to the director working group on peer review is one of two; its counterpart is the internal NIH steering committee working group. Both share the goal of maximizing the efficacy and effectiveness of peer review.

"This is not just a tactical readjustment," said Yamamoto of the University of California, San Francisco. "We want bold visions and revisions."

Peer review is the process of evaluating research grant applications; its purpose is to give these applications rigorous, fair and timely attention. Peer review is the cornerstone of the NIH mission to fund the most promising biomedical and behavioral research.

Over the last 60 years, the peer review process has been vetted several times. The current push comes in the context of straitened federal funding, a dearth of seasoned reviewers and an increase in application volume, complexity and scope. Since 1987, NIH has seen a tenfold increase in the number of applications.

In response, NIH is now seeking ideas in a series of regional meetings with the scientific community, patient advocacy groups and other stakeholders, including the institutes and centers.

The ultimate goal of the study is to optimize the entire system used by NIH to support biomedical and behavioral research. While welcoming suggestions about the review process, NIH also seeks feedback on a wide range of issues including how to structure grant mechanisms so that scientists spend less time on the application process. This requires comprehensive input from the scientific community. Zerhouni emphasized that NIH is particularly interested in creative, concrete suggestions, even if this involves radical changes to the current approach.

NIH has also posted a Request for Information (RFI); its deadline has been extended to Sept. 7.

"We encourage your membership and constituent groups to offer as robust a response as possible," said NIDCR director Tabak. "We will very, very rapidly gather information to be synthesized by the two working groups and considered by NIH leadership. Then we can develop pilot experiments, evaluate the pilots, develop and implement the plan and expand the most successful among them."

Results from the ACD working group go to the full advisory committee to the director in December, when the internal group will also present its findings. Both groups plan to meet in January 2008 to develop a set of integrated recommendations.

To submit an RFI response, visit; the email address is A summary of response results will be available to the public on the NIH peer review web site NIH Record Icon

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