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The objective of the MERIT Award is to provide long-term, stable support to investigators whose research competence and productivity are distinctly superior and who are likely to continue to perform in an outstanding manner. The provision of long-term stable support to such investigators is expected to foster their continued creativity and spare them the administrative burdens associated with preparation and submission of full-length research grant applications. This may allow investigators the opportunity to take greater risks, be more adventurous in their lines of inquiry or take the time to develop new techniques. After the initial 5 years of support the MERIT awardee may request an extension of 3 to 5 more years based on an eight-page progress report and a one-page abstract of the research plan for the extension period.


Nominations for MERIT Awards will be made only once a year at the May meeting of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council. All competing R01 grants awarded in the current fiscal year will be eligible for consideration if they meet the nomination criteria listed below. At each meeting, Council members are urged to point out to staff candidates whom they consider suitable for MERIT Award nomination from among those that have applications before the Council at that meeting.

NIGMS is very selective in making MERIT Awards and, at a minimum, grants should meet the following criteria to be recommended for MERIT Awards:

  1. The research project should have been renewed at least twice. Projects that have been supported by NIGMS for less time are eligible if they have been ongoing with other support.
  2. The grant must have requested and been approved by the initial review group for at least 5 years.
  3. The project must represent the central research focus for the principal investigator. NIGMS will not award a second MERIT Award to an investigator. Since a MERIT Award is meant to support the major research focus of the principal investigator’s laboratory, an investigator with unrestricted support will rarely be considered for a MERIT Award. The award cannot be a multi-PI award, nor can it be converted into one during the course of the award.
  4. The principal investigator must have an outstanding track record of productivity, creativity and impact in the area of research represented by the grant.
  5. The investigator should have an outstanding record of service to the scientific community (e.g., mentoring, demonstrated commitment to diversity goals, service on a journal board).

For each grant nominated for a MERIT Award, staff will prepare a MERIT Award Nomination, discussing the proposed research, the professional background of the principal investigator and the rationale for nomination. MERIT Award nominations for all NIGMS programs will be posted in the Secure Council Web site for review prior to the meeting. Each nomination package will contain the MERIT Award Nomination, a copy of the latest summary statement and a copy of the principal investigator's biographical sketch and bibliography.

The Council will recommend to the NIGMS director which of the nominees should receive MERIT Awards. The NIGMS director will make the final decision and will notify the principal investigators.

New MERIT awardees are also asked to provide a statement of up to two pages that addresses his/her vision of how the award will influence his/her research direction over the next 5 years. These goals will enable program staff to judge the investigator’s progress during the initial award. This will be an important factor in considering the recommendation for a possible MERIT extension.


The objective of the MERIT Award is to provide long-term, stable support to outstanding investigators. After the initial 5 years of support, the MERIT awardee may request an extension of 3 to 5 more years based on an eight-page progress report, which will be gauged against the initial vision statement, and a one-page abstract of the research plan for the extension period. Peer review is provided by the Council. The Council reviews applications for MERIT Award extensions approximately 15 months before the end of the initial MERIT Award project period (approximately 3.5 years after the beginning of the project period). This allows the applicant sufficient time to prepare an application for study section and Council review without a lapse in funding in the event that the Council decides not to approve an extension. However, because the application is prepared so early, the investigator may not have had sufficient time to reap the full benefits of the MERIT Award, and Council should take this into account when reviewing the extension application.

Applications for extension should propose a continuation of the previously pursued line of research and an overall level of effort similar to that of the previous competing segment. Applicants wishing to propose the initiation of major new lines of research, a multi-PI award, and/or significantly increased levels of effort will be advised to submit a regular competing R01 application or a competing supplement at the appropriate time. NIGMS staff will conduct an in-depth analysis of the application and will develop a staff recommendation for consideration by the Council. This recommendation will include an analysis of recent progress and the proposed research and a recommendation for the length of the MERIT Award extension period and budget. Council members will receive the staff recommendation memo, the complete extension application, and any other information that might be pertinent. The Council should consider the appropriateness of the proposed plans and the progress since the most recent competing application. Council should ascertain whether the MERIT awardee has continued to be a leader in her/his field. The Council may advise the NIGMS director to take one of the following actions:

  1. Approve for up to 5 years extension at a specified budget level for each budget period;
  2. Defer for additional information; or  
  3. Deny the extension; the principal investigator will be advised to submit a competing application.


For more information about NIGMS MERIT Awards, contact Dr. Ann Hagan at 301-594-4499.

This page last reviewed on January 19, 2018