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Criteria for Prioritizing Common Fund Program Areas and Initiatives

The NIH Common Fund was created by the NIH in 2004 and enacted into law by Congress through the 2006 NIH Reform Act to support transformative, cross-cutting, trans-NIH programs. These programs typically involve a series of integrated initiatives that collectively address the goals of the program.

Because NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) regularly collaborate in areas of shared interest, the IC Directors and the NIH Leadership developed criteria to prioritize proposed program areas, as well as the initiatives within each program, for support by the Common Fund and the Venture Program:

Common Fund Criteria

  • Transformative – Common Fund programs are intended to have strong potential for exceptionally high and broadly applicable impact in biomedical/behavioral research. Examples of high and broad impact may include changing the way research is conducted, setting new standards for a research field, creating new paradigms, or leading to new insights or advances for a broad spectrum of diseases/conditions. 
  • Catalytic – Common Fund programs are time-limited investments (10 years or less) designed to accelerate and enable subsequent scientific research. This temporary investment should result in the rapid advancement of an emerging field of research, or a significant change in trajectory or pace of an established field. The infusion of resources provided by a Common Fund program should dramatically change a research field, such that “business as usual” is no longer state-of-the-art. A successful Common Fund program stimulates subsequent research without the need for continued targeted investment. These investments must also be timely, leveraging new knowledge, technology, or breakthroughs that make progress possible now when it wasn’t before. 
  • Goal-driven – Common Fund programs must include defined goals to develop specific deliverables (such as new knowledge, data sets and data resources, methods, technologies, or devices). Clear goals and milestones ensure delivery of specific results with the life of the program, but with significant downstream effects. Program management is result-driven, with potential to reallocate resources in response to obstacles or emerging opportunities.
  • Synergistic – Common Fund programs contribute to and advance the missions of multiple NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices (ICOs), advancing research relevant to multiple diseases and conditions. To produce this synergy, programs leverage expertise from multiple ICOs in program planning, implementation, and management through collaborative efforts of multi-ICO Working Groups. Common Fund programs generate greater impact than could be achieved if individual ICOs worked in isolation.
  • Novel – Common Fund programs embrace innovation and tolerate scientific risk when appropriate. Programs focus in an area of science outside individual NIH ICO investments, do not duplicate existing efforts, and should be something no other entity is able or likely to do. Programs provide new solutions to specific challenges, capitalizing on emerging scientific opportunities and addressing a unique need. 

Venture Program Criteria

The Common Fund Venture Program is a new area of Common Fund support that provides a framework for development of short-term Common Fund initiatives that embrace scientific risk and are responsive to the shared priorities of NIH Institutes, Centers, and the Office of the Director.

Venture initiatives are Common Fund investments and so must meet Common Fund criteria, as expressed below. However, additional criteria also apply, emphasizing brief, modest investments that can be implemented quickly in response to emerging opportunities. Venture investments should be lightweight and nimble while having a strong potential to accelerate science quickly.

  • Bold – Venture initiatives embrace significant scientific risk as part of a bold approach to rapidly and efficiently advance biomedical research. This scientific risk is commensurate with the potential for significant impact if successful.  
  • Nimble – Venture initiatives are nimble, allowing timely investment in emerging scientific opportunities. Initiatives therefore must be amenable to rapid launch and implementation.
  • Focused – Venture initiatives are focused, lightweight investments limited to three years and up to $5 million per year. These limited investments are intended to have outsized impact in biomedical research. Venture initiatives focus on a clearly defined research topic and have a clear outcome(s) achievable within three years.

This page last reviewed on May 29, 2024