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Multiple Principal Investigators - General Information

The traditional NIH research project grant consists of a single Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) working with a small group of subordinates on an independent research project. Although this model clearly continues to work well and encourages creativity and productivity, it does not always work well for multidisciplinary efforts and collaboration. Increasingly, health-related research involves teams that vary in terms of size, hierarchy, location of participants, goals, disciplines, and structure. The multiple-PD/PI model supplements, and not replace, the traditional single PD/PI model, and allows applicants and their institution to identify more than one PD/PI on a single grant application. The goal is to encourage collaboration among equals when that is the most appropriate way to address a scientific problem.  The NIH adopted a multiple-PD/PI model in November, 2006, in response to recommendations from the NIH 2003 Bioengineering Consortium (BECON), an NIH Roadmap Initiative to stimulate interdisciplinary science in 2004, and a directive from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in 2007. As a result of a Request for Information (RFI) to obtain input on policies and issues of special interest to the health-related research community, and experiences from pilot initiatives offered through a select group of Requests for Applications and Program Announcements, NIH implemented the Multi Principal Investigator Policy (see NOT-OD-07-017). The availability of the Multiple PD/PI option encourages interdisciplinary and other team approaches to biomedical research. 

Features of the Multiple PD/PI Model

The format and administration of applications submitted under the multiple-PD/PI model have some elements that differ from the traditional single-PD/PI model.

In addition to its direct impact on researchers, the adoption by the NIH of a multiple-PD/PI model affects some administrative operations of both the NIH and the awardee institutions. For example, as a result of the multiple PD/PI initiative, the NIH Departmental Ranking Tables that ranked institutions and medical school departments by the amount of NIH funding they received were replaced with a web-based tool that allows users to determine dollars awarded to any one organization or department. With multiple PD/PIs from different departments, assignment of funds is not possible; in addition, many institutions responded to the RFI that the value of the tables to the scientific community was limited.  Extramural award data is now available from the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (RePORT Link to External Site).

Specific features of the Multiple PD/PI Option include the following:

  • Applications
    • NIH Grant Applications Forms, including the PHS 398 and SF424 R&R, accommodate more than one PD/PI (see application forms at
    • Applications that involve more than one PD/PI must include a Leadership Plan that describes the roles, the responsibilities, and the working relationship of the identified PD/PIs
  • Principal Investigators
    • All PD/PIs are designated by the applicant institution
    • All PD/PIs share the responsibility and authority for leading and directing the project
    • All listed PD/PIs must be registered in eRA Commons with a PD/PI role type 
    • All listed PD/PIs will have access to Status on the eRA Commons at Link to External Site
    • The first PD/PI listed must be affiliated with the institution submitting the application and will serve as the contact PD/PI 
    • The contact PD/PI will be responsible for communication between the NIH and the rest of the leadership team
    • Being named contact PD/PI does not imply any particular role within the leadership team 
    • When requested by the recipient institution at the time of a non-competing application, another member of the leadership team may assume the role of contact PD/PI
    • All PD/PIs will be listed on summary statements
    • All PD/PIs will be listed on the Notice of Award (NoA)
    • All PD/PIs will be listed in project descriptions available in RePORTER Link to External Site
    • The role type, “co-PI” is not used by the NIH
    • A change from a multiple PD/PI model to a single-PD/PI model, or from a single-PD/PI model to a multiple PD/PI model, requires the prior approval of the IC Grants Management Officer and must be based on the scientific needs of the project (NOT-OD-11-118).
  • New and Early Stage Investigator Policies
    • NIH policies related to applications from New Investigators and or Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) will be applied to multi-PD/PI applications only when all PD/PIs involved are classified as New Investigators and/or ESIs (see 
    • For the purpose of classification as a New Investigator, successfully competing as a multiple PD/PI on a substantial NIH independent research award is equivalent to serving as a PD/PI on a single PD/PI grant in that it will discontinue status as a New Investigator. An individual who meets the definition of New Investigator and is added as a PD/PI on an active substantial NIH independent research award after peer review will not lose their new investigator status.
  • Review Criteria   
    • Standard NIH review criteria accommodate both single PD/PI and multiple PD/PI applications
  • Awards Involving More Than One Institution
    • Awards involving PD/PIs at different institutions are managed using subcontracts.
Availability of Multiple PD/PI Model

The multiple PD/PI option is extended to most research grant applications submitted electronically through using the SF424 R&R application package.  If the Multiple PD/PI Model is not allowed, the Funding Opportunity will state that “Multiple Principal Investigators (mPI) are not permitted.” under Section III, Eligible Individuals.

Decision to Use the Multiple PD/PI Model

The decision to apply for a single PD/PI or a multiple PD/PI grant is the responsibility of the investigators and the applicant organization.  Those decisions should be consistent with and justified by the scientific goals of the project.  Therefore, as with the preparation of any research grant application, it is essential that investigators consider all aspects of the funding mechanism before submission. While there are some projects that clearly will be appropriate for the multiple-PD/PI model, the “fit” for other projects may not be so clear. All applicants proposing team science efforts are strongly encouraged to contact their NIH program officials at the earliest possible date to discuss the appropriateness of the multiple-PD/PI model for the support of their research.

Frequently Asked Questions

See a list of Frequently Asked Questions.

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This page last updated on September 22, 2011 
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