Though peer review to fund science is an American invention that started more than a century ago, its impact on biomedical research worldwide is powerful. Allocating funds through merit still offers the best hope for medical breakthroughs that can improve health for everyone on the planet.
CSR director Dr. Toni Scarpa has been taking that message beyond U.S. borders to bolster the impact of peer review in other countries—Italy, Sweden, Canada, Australia, to name a few.
“It is important to maximize funds for biomedical research,” Scarpa said. “After all, biomedical research is universal and whatever advances or discoveries are made don’t stay within the country. They are adopted and used by different countries and communities.”
Although more countries are adopting peer review as a means of dispensing funds, most of the funds in many countries are allocated using government appropriations and entitlements. For example, Scarpa said that in many countries, the professors doing biomedical research have already been paid 100 percent by their federal governments, whether they are competitive or not.
“What distinguishes this country is that the lion’s share of money NIH spends on extramural research is based on peer review and distributed exclusively on merit,” he said. “So it is vital to help different countries recognize that distributing more funds through peer review would benefit not only their respective countries, but also the health of the people on this planet.”
Recently, Scarpa traveled to Italy to help revolutionize how its government funds biomedical research. His work had a big impact on helping Italy adopt a competitive peer review system that more closely parallels NIH’s system. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has asked CSR to help get things started by reviewing about 1,500 applications for the Italian government in 2009.
“We are doing what we can to inform different countries of the best practices and various modalities that we are using that have worked or not worked, with the goal of encouraging more funding of merit-based biomedical research,” Scarpa said. “We are here to help make that happen.”
CSR’s outreach has paid off in more ways than one. Other countries have methods that helped NIH improve its peer review.