Cancelling the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition
A message from CIHR President Dr. Michael Strong

Clarification to researchers about the eligibility for Investigator-Initiated Research and bridge grant extensions (April 28, 2020)

April 2, 2020

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to you today to announce that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, CIHR has cancelled the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition.

CIHR made the decision to cancel the spring competition following consultations with Governing Council, Science Council, partners at the U-15, Universities Canada, HealthCareCAN, and the University Delegates Network, among others. While the decision to cancel the competition was a difficult one, our priority right now is to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health and safety of our staff and the research community.

After considering all available options, the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition was cancelled for the following key reasons:

  • Many of our peer reviewers are clinician scientists and health professionals who have heeded the call to lend a hand, as our country’s health care resources are stretched thin on the ground. It would have been irresponsible for CIHR to divert their attention at this critical time of need.
  • With researchers following public health advice to curtail travel and self-isolate, carrying out face-to-face peer review for the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition would have been contrary to all public health advice.
  • Our pool of peer reviewers is comprised of many professors who are now faced with the task of modifying their courses and final exams to an online format. This shift will entail a great deal of work, and we do not want to add to their burden.
  • The researchers who would typically provide peer review for this competition – and the CIHR staff who would deliver it – are presently occupied with a more important duty: caring for the health and safety of their families and loved ones, which must remain their top priority.
  • Last, but not least, in keeping with government-wide initiatives to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, CIHR’s physical offices are closed and all work is being done from home.  Our priority is to direct our resources to efforts to tackle the government of Canada’s response to COVID-19.

Given the extraordinary circumstances, CIHR did consider virtual peer review for the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition. However, such a move would not have resolved many of the challenges mentioned above. Furthermore, with the situation continuing to evolve, we could not be certain about the reliability of the critical infrastructure required to deliver a high-quality competition. For these reasons, we are not pursuing virtual peer review for the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition. Delaying the competition until this summer was also not a viable option, as there is a possibility that CIHR’s normal business operations will not resume in time to successfully deliver a Project Grant competition this summer. That said, CIHR remains on track to deliver the Fall 2020 Project Grant competition.

We acknowledge that cancelling the competition will have significant impacts on those who applied as well as on future competitions. CIHR will implement the following measures to help mitigate these impacts:

  • Similar to what was done when the Spring 2017 competition was delayed, CIHR will financially extend Investigator-Initiated Research (IIR) grants for all researchers who applied to the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition as a Nominated Principal Applicant (NPA) who currently hold an IIR grant that is scheduled to expire between June 30, 2020 and March 30, 2021, for one year.Footnote 1
    • This provision is intended to support those applicants who were applying for a grant to replace one that was expiring.
    • The amount provided will be equivalent to one year of the grant’s average annual value.
    • Those who accept the extension will not be allowed to apply as an NPA to the Fall 2020 competition to help ease some of the pressure on this competition.
  • Additionally, CIHR will financially extend bridge grants provided to Nominated Principal Investigators (NPIs) in the Fall 2019 Project Grant competition who had also applied to the Spring 2020 competition.Footnote 2
    • The amount provided will be the equivalent of 6 months of their bridge grant amount.
    • NPIs who are provided this bridge grant extension will be allowed to apply in the role of NPA to the Fall 2020 competition.
  • NPAs from the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition will be given the option to bring their submission forward automatically to the Fall 2020 Project Grant competition, including the ability to provide a one-page supplement for additional support data or publications. NPAs will also have the option to withdraw their application and resubmit a new or updated application to the Fall competition.

More broadly, CIHR is considering measures to help the health research community weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic. The following measures will be implemented immediately

  • An automatic one-year extension to the authority-to-use-funds date for all active grants. This will give researchers an additional full year to use any residual funds not yet spent to compensate for disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • CIHR will place a moratorium on all existing and any new strategic/institute-driven funding opportunities during the next three months. The exception is that any funding competitions related to COVID-19 will continue to go forward.
  • Relatedly, throughout this process, we have worked closely with our colleagues at the U15 and Universities Canada, who are currently considering our proposal to provide a full-year extension to all those individuals who are within the probationary period and tenure stream.

CIHR will continue to monitor the situation as it evolves, and stands ready to take more action as needed to help mitigate any impacts and delays caused by COVID-19.

I know that you likely have many questions. CIHR will follow up with all applicants and peer reviewers for the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition through targeted communications in order to assist you as you navigate next steps and consider your options. We will also be holding webinars in the lead up to the Fall 2020 Project Grant competition to answer your questions. In the meantime, please visit CIHR’s COVID-19 webpage, which will be updated regularly, and continue to email your questions to support-soutien@cihr-irsc.gc.ca.

Rest assured that we will continue to do everything in our power to minimize disruption to the research community. These are extraordinary times and these are extraordinary measures, but we will get through them together.

Sincerely,

Michael J. Strong, MD, FRCP, FCAHS, FAAN
President, CIHR

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