Case Studies

Case Study: Transforming NIH Grants Review Process and Management

  • Victoria Robinson
  • May 21, 2023
Young serious male detective looking through criminal profiles in office

Challenge/Scope

The National Institutes of Health’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR) faces a daunting task: reviewing 90,000 grants annually to support NIH’s 27 Extramural Institutes and Centers. The grant lifecycle is not a steady stream but rather a series of surges in workload. To effectively advance the mission of administering medical research grants, CSR requires comprehensive support that can adapt to these fluctuations and maintain a high standard of efficiency and quality.

Approach/Solution

Highlight provides a wide range of services to CSR, ensuring the fair, independent, expert, and timely review of grant applications. One of the key innovations Highlight introduced was the Virtual Assisted Meeting (VAM) teleconference infrastructure. By managing this technology, Highlight enabled reviewers from all over the world to participate in meetings without the need for travel. This not only expanded the pool of qualified and willing review participants but also resulted in significant cost savings for CSR. In addition to the VAM infrastructure, Highlight took on the responsibility of managing all aspects of CSR meeting rooms, from allocation and setup to the maintenance of all technologies used. This meticulous attention to detail ensured that meetings ran smoothly and professionally.

Highlight also recognized the need to streamline the application screening process. By leveraging SQL Developer, Highlight’s team was able to run queries that screened through hundreds of records each round, quickly identifying and withdrawing non-compliant applications. This process, which required both technical skills and a deep understanding of grant submission policies, saved CSR days to weeks of time.

Perhaps one of the most impactful initiatives Highlight collaborated on with NIH was the development and implementation of the Early Career Reviewer (ECR) program. This program aimed to train and educate qualified scientists to become critically competent and fair reviewers, provide them with peer review experience, and enrich the existing pool of NIH reviewers. Highlight’s support was instrumental in the success of this program.

Capabilities

  • Full Lifecycle Grants Management Services
  • Video Assisted Meeting Support
  • Training¬†
  • Program Management

Results/Outcomes

Under Highlight’s management, the number of VAM users increased from 307 in 2017 to over 5,000, with increased user satisfaction ratings. The application screening process saves CSR time, and the support for nearly 300 video-assisted meetings per year saves CSR approximately $19M annually in travel and logistics costs. The ECR program has been successful, with NIH incorporating it into their infrastructure. More than 8,500 people have served as part of the ECR program, bringing new perspectives to the peer review process. These improvements to the efficiency and quality of NIH’s peer review process have contributed to advances in understanding viruses, vaccine development, and human genetic variation. Highlight’s support has been a factor in enabling these scientific developments.