ACD Working Group on High-Risk, High-Reward Programs


In the last 15 years, NIH has developed programs to fund research that has the potential to pay great dividends if successful, but is unlikely to fare well in traditional review because it is high risk. These NIH high-risk, high-reward (HRHR) programs are unique compared to NIH's more traditional funding programs. They encourage risk and creativity and ask applicants to put forth bold project ideas with limited or no preliminary data. During evaluations, the project's riskiness and potential for driving innovative research in related areas are emphasized. The Common Fund now supports several HRHR programs as part of its portfolio, including the Pioneer Award, the New Innovator Award, the Transformative Research Award, and the Early Independence Award. Other NIH institutions are also adopting these mechanisms.

The Pioneer and New Innovator Awards programs have been evaluated using various metrics and show enhanced productivity over traditional R01 grants. NIH wants to build upon the successes of these programs, while at same time ensuring that applicants and awardees reflect the diversity of biomedical researchers and the U.S. population.

Analysis of HRHR awardees shows that most successful applicants tend to come from research-intensive, resource-rich institutions, and are white males. To best meet its scientific goals, NIH wants to support men and women researchers from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds and those working at geographically diverse institutions.


The HRHR working group will review the effectiveness of distinct NIH HRHR research programs that emphasize exceptional innovation. For these HRHR programs, we will analyze the participation of women and underrepresented groups and examine institutional diversity in the applicant and awardee pools to identify possible causes for their underrepresentation. After evaluating and analyzing the HRHR programs, the working group will propose steps that NIH might take to enhance the diversity of applicants and awardees in these programs, while maintaining a focus on supporting the best science.



  • John Carpten, Ph.D.
    Keck School of Medicine
    University of Southern California
  • Molly Carnes, M.D.
    University of Wisconsin
  • Becky Miller, Ph.D.
    Office of Strategic Coordination
    National Institutes of Health
  • Amy Palin, Ph.D.
    Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
  • Nicole Perry
    Vanderbilt University
  • Griffin Rodgers, M.D.
    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
  • Scout, Ph.D.
    National LGBT Cancer Network
  • Sandra Schmid, Ph.D.
    University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
  • Jason Sheltzer, Ph.D.
    Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  • Shirley Tilghman, Ph.D.
    Princeton University
  • Hannah Valantine, M.D.
    OD Scientific Workforce Diversity, National Institutes of Health


  • Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D.
    Acting Director, National Institutes of Health
  • Brendan Lee, M.D., Ph.D.
    Baylor College of Medicine

* Document is in the process of being made compliant with Section 508 accessibility requirements.

This page last reviewed on July 2, 2019