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The Effect of COVID-19 on Research Funding

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, despite whether we know anyone who has contracted the virus or not. From visits to the doctor to shopping for groceries, and working from home to furloughs and layoffs, it has affected us all.

Plenty has certainly changed in the field of research as well. Many researchers have expressed concern about when they will be able to return to the laboratory and continue working on projects, as well as about how the pandemic effects the funding for which they’ve applied. Concern also exists over how to handle awards that have already been received for projects that are experiencing significant delays of which laboratories will not be able to overcome without an extension.

While each state is experiencing different versions of stay-at-home orders and each organization has different work-from-home arrangements, funding-related concerns exist, not only across the United States, but throughout the world due to this pandemic.

The good news for biomedical researchers is that the COVID-19 pandemic requires a biomedical research response, and TOPAZ has kept a close eye on the state of research funding in the United States.

Large research funding organizations in the United States such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have all indicated that they are open to providing administrative relief measures to researchers affected by COVID-19. In fact, the United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum on March 9th (M-20-11) and another on March 19th (M-20-17) in which it was declared that all federal agencies are permitted to extend certain accommodations to grant applicants and recipients.

Specifically, the NIH has received over $1.75 billion in emergency funding for COVID-19 related activities. Regarding current funding applications, the NIH is accepting late applications for many of its opportunities without the need for justification. For current NIH awards, extensions of up to 12 months are being permitted if research has been disrupted. The NIH has also made it clear that “non-refundable costs associated with grant-related travel that has been cancelled because of COVID-19 can be paid for by the NIH award if they would have otherwise been allowable” (Stoye, 2020).

One last question seems to be at the forefront of researchers’ minds: is the NIH funding capacity going to be hindered by the pandemic at all? In an effort to monitor the state of NIH funding, TOPAZ keeps track of it on a week-by-week basis and we’re pleased to report that, at the moment, funding from the NIH appears to be on par with the 2019 rate of funding. Additionally, in a webinar hosted by the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) in early April, Michelle Bulls, Director of the Office of Policy for Extramural Research Administration (OPERA) at the NIH, stated that she doesn’t expect there to be a decrease in funding relative to last year.

The great lengths that federal agencies are going to accommodate and support research during this time of uncertainty is quite reassuring. In spite of all of the bad news that the pandemic has brought, one final consideration in all of this is that the COIVD-19 pandemic may ultimately strengthen the field of biomedical research given the imperative role that science plays in the fight against the virus.

 

References:

Stoye, E. (2020, April 17). How research funders are tackling coronavirus disruption. Springer Nature. ISSN 1476-4687. Source: www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01120-2.

Office of Management and Budget. (2020, March 9). Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies (M-20-11). Source: www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/M-20-11.pdf

Office of Management and Budget. (2020, March 19). Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies (M-20-17). Source: www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/M-20-17.pdf

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