NIH Tightens Funding Requirements For Overseas Projects

Earlier this month, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a new policy to tighten oversight of “sub-awards” that allow primary grant recipients to give funding to a research collaborator, subjecting extra scrutiny primarily to foreign research collaborators.

According to the policy, which will go into effect on October 1, foreign researchers will be required to submit copies of all laboratory notebooks, documentation, and data to the primary grant recipient every few months, with the NIH having the right to request access to the documentation as part of its oversight.

The new policy comes in the wake of the controversy over the NIH funding gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology through the use of “sub-awards” given to the institute by the US-based EcoHealth Alliance.

However, some researchers fear that the NIH’s new policy could have a chilling effect on international collaborations in research, with foreign researchers refusing to partner with US researchers due to the new requirements, according to Nature.

Dr. Sheela Shenoi of Yale University School of Medicine described the policy as “heavy-handed,” telling Nature that it shows disrespect to foreign collaborators by suggesting that they require “additional oversight” and implying that they are incapable of doing research “in a rigorous and robust way.”

NIH spokeswoman Amanda Fine argued that the new policy will empower the primary grant recipients to regularly obtain data and records from foreign sub-awardees “without having to worry that they will not be able to access materials when needed.”

Fine said a “free flow” of documents, data, and information is a part of “high-quality science.”

But according to Stefano Bertuzzi, the chief executive of the Washington-based American Society for Microbiology, the NIH’s focus on foreign collaborators is especially troubling.

Bertuzzi told Nature that while he supports oversight and accountability for sub-awards, he finds it puzzling that the NIH is singling out only “foreign entities.”