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Legacy Fund to Provide Researchers Safety Net for Tough Times
Each grant submitted to the NIH is reviewed by other scientists and given a score. The grants are then ranked by score and money is given to the top-ranked applications until the funds run out. As the NIH budget tightens and fewer grants are funded, more and more high-scoring grants miss the “payline.”
   Many times these high-scoring grants are equally worthy of funding, says Ira Tabas, M.D., the Richard J. Stock Professor of Medicine. “In terms of productivity, studies show that grants that score in the top 25th percentile are equally successful. It’s very difficult to distinguish a grant that gets a 10, from a grant that gets a 20, except now the 10 gets funded and the 20 gets nothing,” Dr. Tabas says.
   Researchers with high-scoring grants that miss the payline usually submit a revision, but nine months or more may pass before a successful revision receives support. In the meantime, they must shut down their lab, jeopardizing scientific work that takes years of effort and support to build. That puts investigators at a competitive disadvantage when their revisions – which may require new data – come up for review.
   Last year Dr. Tabas had the idea of establishing the Legacy Fund to support the most outstanding researchers during short lapses in NIH funding and to keep them as competitive as possible while they prepare a revision.
   “This helps the investigator obviously, but it’s also good financially for the university,” Dr. Tabas says. “A typical four- to five- year NIH R01 grant provides $1 million in direct funding to conduct the research and, additionally, the university receives up to $600,000 to support the research infrastructure. The $50,000 we give to a lab in the short-term is trivial compared to the amount the university can get in the long run.”
   The department also wants to use the Legacy Fund, which consists of private gifts from donors, to invest in young researchers whose research and publications are outrunning the acquisition of funds.
   “Scientists at Columbia are among the leading recipients of federal dollars for science, but government funding is no longer sufficient to cover our expenses,” Dr. Tabas says. “Contributing to the Legacy Fund is the most direct way a donor can help the department continue its success.”
   For more information, contact Greer McPhaden, director of research operations in the Department of Medicine, at 212-305-5960.