Monday, September 3, 2012
Funding models: People
Howard Hughes Medical
Institute and the Wellcome Trust
award individual investigators long-term funding that is not tied to a specific
research project. The goal is to encourage investigators to pursue new and
sometimes controversial research that might not be funded by a traditional
In 2011, Howard Hughes
awarded $825 million in biomedical research funding, while Wellcome awarded
£378 million ($587 million) in science funding.
Howard Hughes supports about
330 independent researchers as HHMI Investigators at institutions throughout
the U.S., providing operational funding, equipment and salary support.
The non-profit also funds an
additional 45 Early Career Scientists, who are eligible to enter the program
with 2-5 years experience in a tenure-track position.
Instead of submitting a
proposal describing a specific project, applicants are required to write a
3,000-word essay describing their ongoing and future research plans, a summary
of their major research achievements, a statement of how Howard Hughes funding
will enhance their research program, and a description of their five most
The institute recruits a
panel of distinguished scientists to review the applications, and semifinalists
are invited to present their research in person. Those chosen as HHMI
Investigators are funded for five years, and about 80% are reappointed
following a rigorous review process.
Early Career Scientists are
funded for six years, after which they can apply to become HHMI Investigators.
Howard Hughes CSO Jack Dixon
said the amount of time the institute spends selecting and reviewing its
candidates could not scale to an organization the size of NIH. Even to
double the number of investigators, he said, "the review process would
have to change in a substantial way. I've been doing this for six years, and I
have been at every person's review."
The National Institute of
Biological Sciences (NIBS) in Beijing, which was founded by Howard Hughes
Investigator Xiaodong Wang, is modeled after the U.S. institute (see
BioCentury, Nov. 15, 2010).
Wellcome Trust has recently
increased its long-term, individual-focused funding. While the charity has long
provided research fellowships to postdocs, it used to fund established
investigators through project-specific grants. In 2009, the organization
announced it would stop offering project grants, and instead offer investigator
awards, which fund tenure-track investigators up to £450,000 over seven years
to pursue independent research.
Awards are made at two
levels. One level is new investigators who are no more than five years into
their first academic appointment. The other award level is to senior
- Chris Cain