RELEASE DATE:  January 23, 2004

NOTICE:  NOT-RM-04-007

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

NIH Director's Pioneer Award Program



NIH, in acknowledgment of the changing face of biomedical research, is 
announcing a new program, The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award. While the 
term biomedical research is used throughout this notice it should be 
broadly interpreted to include the scientific investigations of 
biomedical, behavioral, social, physical, chemical and computer 
scientists; engineers; and mathematicians.

History suggests that leaps in knowledge frequently result from 
exceptional minds willing and able to explore ideas that were 
considered risky at their inception, especially in the absence of 
strong supportive data.  Such individuals are more likely to take such 
risks when they are assured of adequate funds for a sufficient period 
of time, and with the freedom to set their own research agenda.  The
NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (NDPA) program is being established to 
identify and fund investigators of exceptionally creative abilities and 
diligence, for a sufficient term (five years) to allow them to develop 
and test far-ranging ideas.  Awardees are expected to commit the major 
portion of their effort to activities supported by the NDPA. The 
program is not intended to support ongoing research projects or simply 
expand the funding of persons already well supported.    

The only constraint on the research to be done with this Award will be 
that it must be relevant to the NIH mission.


The spectacular advances made in the biological and medical sciences in 
the last few decades have opened doors to even greater opportunities in 
the 21st century.  The National Institutes of Health has been, and will 
continue to be, a major player in the support of this groundbreaking 
research.  Much of the NIH success derives from its reliance on 
investigator-initiated research proposals (the bedrock R01 award) and 
its dual system of peer review and advisory council oversight.  
However, there is evidence that some additional means may be necessary 
to further accelerate advances in medical science and the resulting 
gains in the health and well-being of the American people. 

The face of biomedical research is changing.  Many of the new 
opportunities for research involve crossing traditional disciplinary 
lines and bringing forward different conceptual frameworks as well as 
methodologies. These developments appear to justify support for more 
aggressive risk-taking and innovation.  While the current NIH funding 
system will continue to support groundbreaking research and innovation 
within the context of its traditional research grant mechanisms, 
additional avenues seem necessary to encourage high risk/high impact 
research in this new context.  

To address this issue, NIH convened a group of highly distinguished 
outside consultants with expertise in biomedical, behavioral and social 
sciences, physical sciences, and engineering, representing academia, 
foundations, business and industry.  This group proposed that NIH 
implement novel programs targeted specifically to identify, encourage, 
and support the people and projects that will produce tomorrow’s 
conceptual and technological breakthroughs.  These programs would 
complement the other NIH research grants programs and would provide 
additional opportunities to those afforded within the Institutes and 
Centers for research that contests the status quo across the breadth of 
the NIH mission. A first step in this process is the establishment of a 
new NIH program to support exceptionally creative individual 

SUMMARY OF THE AWARD PROCESS – The award process is summarized briefly 
below and in detail at 


Nominees for the NDPA must be U. S. citizens, non-citizen nationals, or 
permanent residents who are currently engaged in research.  The 
research need not be related to conventional biomedical or behavioral 
disciplines; if the individual’s experience is in non-biological areas 
there must be evidence of interest in exploring topics of biomedical 
relevance.  If selected, individuals must show evidence of 
infrastructure support.  Investigators at early stages of their career 
as well as those who are established will be eligible.  


In the first phase of the application process, nominations will be 
submitted by mentors, colleagues, institutions, or by the individuals 
themselves.  Only a single nomination package may be submitted for each 
person.  The nomination package will include a letter and the nominee’s 
resume or Curriculum Vita, each no more than two pages in length.

The letter will explain why the nominee should be considered 
exceptional and therefore highly likely to pursue original avenues of 
inquiry directed at very challenging biomedical problems.  Although 
creativity comes in many forms, aspects common to innovative people 
include an interest in, and the ability to integrate, diverse sources 
of information, an inclination to challenge paradigms and take 
intellectual risks, resilience in the face of failure, an ability to 
attract the right collaborators, and the diligence and concentration 
necessary to plan and execute effective strategies for accomplishing 
goals.   The letter should also provide evidence of the nominee’s 
interest in the types of biomedical problems that are particularly 
overdue for fresh approaches.
Nominations will be submitted via the Internet to The 
website will be open to receive nominations from March 1, 2004 through 
midnight April 1, 2004, Eastern Standard Time.    


All nominations will be evaluated by NIH staff for eligibility and by 
outside experts to identify promising candidates who will be invited 
formally to apply for the NDPA.  In the second phase of this process 
beginning mid June, the candidates will be asked to provide an essay of 
3-5 pages describing their views on the major challenges in biomedical 
and behavioral research to which they feel they can make seminal 
contributions.  No detailed scientific plan should be provided since 
the research plan will be expected to evolve during the tenure of the 
grant.  In addition, each candidate will submit a copy of his/her most 
significant publication or achievement and arrange for direct 
submission of letters of support from three individuals who may or may 
not have been nominators.  A subset of the candidates will be 
interviewed in August-September 2004, by a panel of outside experts.  
Additional input will be provided by the Advisory Committee to the 
Director and final selections will be completed and announced by the 
end of September 2004.  


To inaugurate this program sufficient funds have been set aside in 2004 
to provide 5-10 awards.  The awards will be up to $500,000 direct costs 
each year, for five years.  Although there are no stipulations on the 
research agenda, the awardee will be required to submit an annual 
report of activities conducted during the year and to participate in an 
annual symposium on the NIH campus.  This symposium will allow awardees 
to share their ideas, progress, and experience with each other, the 
research community, and NIH staff. 


The NIH Director's Pioneer Award is among several initiatives being 
undertaken as a part of the NIH Roadmap Activities. To learn more about 
the award, please refer to the NIH Roadmap Web site at, or E-mail your questions to

Return to Volume Index

Return to NIH Guide Main Index

Office of Extramural Research (OER) - Home Page Office of Extramural
Research (OER)
  National Institutes of Health (NIH) - Home Page National Institutes of Health (NIH)
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, Maryland 20892
  Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) - Home Page Department of Health
and Human Services (HHS) - Government Made Easy

Note: For help accessing PDF, RTF, MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Audio or Video files, see Help Downloading Files.