Spring has Sprung!

I, like many others will be looking forward to the upcoming ACTS meeting in Chicago this month for the first 3D meeting in two years. Hopefully BA.2 will remain muted, at least in the Chicago area which is currently rated ‘low’ by the CDC’s community level measure. Closer to home in the DC region, there has been some other activity over the past several weeks that has engendered some other community transmission angst. Specifically, Congress delivered a full year budget for FY22 which we are now more than halfway through. While NCATS overall received a $26.9M increase (3.14%), CTSAs received a $19.8M increase (3.37%); the latter being in line with the rest of NIH before adding in IC specific earmarks.

Also included in the funding bill was report language directed to NCATS with regards to the CTSA program (the March Program webinar slides includes the language as well as a link to the bill itself). Specifically, NCATS is directed to support every CTSA that successfully recompetes under our new FOA to at least 95% of their prior “core hub responsibilities” as well as changing the partner contribution from total NIH clinical research funding to direct total NIH funding. Needless to say, these changes do create substantial implications for some applicants in the process of preparing proposals for the May submission date which necessitated these recent notices (NOT-TR-22-026 and NOT-TR-22-025).

One unfortunate additional consequence of these actions was to confound the modeling forecast we had previously developed. NCATS utilized several budget modeling experts to review the budget forecast and implementation of the report language. Implementing the new directive with the planned funding tiers resulted in a projected substantial increase in anticipated FY23 awards which would only be compounded in future years. Even more concerning was that over the next few years, the CTSA budget would be unable to maintain the current number of CTSA awards and would be forced to reduce the overall number of active CTSAs.

This situation was exactly the scenario that the revised funding calculation was designed to avoid. As a result, the ranges of the four tiers needed to be recalibrated to return to a long-term sustainable funding forecast as required by the Federal Antideficiency Act. Under our original award calculation (partner clinical research funding), we forecast that the average CTSA would have seen a 16% increase (U+K) with only 2 CTSAs seeing any decrement. With the new methodology, the average increase is slightly reduced (13%) in order to accommodate the 95% requirement. Overall, a majority of CTSAs will see no change in their tier assignment however a few will be negatively impacted. For the few that are negatively impacted this situation may delay their submission to a later receipt date beyond May 2022 which could impact the timeline for an eventual award. In these cases, NCATS will consider the capability to provide potential support to span a gap in funding, in accordance with NIH grants policy.

Between too good to be true and worse than you can imagine, bet on worse.

- From the Cynic’s Book of Wisdom

This Mike's Blog was featured in April 2022's Ansible. To view the newsletter click here. To read other full-length stories from the April 2022 Ansible click here.