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Alternative funding opportunities for European Research: NIH Funding

August 31 2017

The NIH is the largest public funder of biomedical research worldwide, investing over $32 billion in research annually. It is therefore an interesting alternative source of research funding for European researchers, especially as EU funding programmes are becoming increasingly competitive. In 2016, the NIH funded 122 European research applications, at a total of $66 million. 

Figure 1. NIH funding of research in European countries. Source:

Mission of the NIH

The NIH is composed of 27 research institutes and centres (ICs). Twenty-four of these centres offer grants for research use. The overall mission of NIH is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behaviour of living systems, and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life and reduce illness and disability. However, each of the ICs has their own mission, priority, budget and funding strategy which needs to be taken into account when applying for funding.

When listed according to the number of European projects and total amount of money funded by the different ICs, it is interesting to see that most European projects funded are from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institute on Ageing (NIA) and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) (Table 1). 

European projects funded by the NIHTable 1. European projects funded by the NIH

This corresponds largely to the overall focus of NIH on the topics Chronic Diseases (e.g. CVD, Cancer, Diabetes, Asthma), A healthy mind (e.g. depression, Parkinson's disease, addiction), Infectious diseases (e.g. HIV/AIDS, influenza, global health), Children’s health (e.g. autism, hearing, obesity), Ageing (e.g. Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, vision loss) and Personalised medicine (e.g. pharmacogenomics, stem cells, imaging). Nonetheless, this does not mean that your project will not get funded if your project does not fall under one of these ICs. In fact, the largest amount of funding awarded to European projects in 2016 ($2.5 Million) was for a project submitted to the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). 

How to apply for NIH grants?

Would you like to apply for NIH funding? One way to start the grant application process is by identifying the IC(s) your project would fall under. After this, you can search for Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) under the specific IC. There are three different types of FOAs:

  • Program Announcements (PA, PAR, PAS): program announcements highlight a particular area of focus and are usually ongoing (3 years). Often there are standard receipt dates for these applications.
  • Requests for Applications (RFA): these funding opportunities have a narrowly defined scope and there usually is a single receipt data for these applications.
  • Parent Announcements: these are a type of program announcement that generally spans the breadth of the NIH mission. Parent announcements are the best option for ‘investigator-initiated’ or ‘unsolicited’ research ideas.

More information on the different types of NIH programs can be found here.

The next important step would be to check whether you meet the requirements for eligibility. Under Section III.1.A (for institutions) and Section III.1.B (for individuals) of each FOA, you can find whether you are eligible to apply.

I am eligible, what’s next?

Although NIH funding offers an attractive opportunity, the subsidy program and application process can be quite complex. The NIH website contains extensive information on the application process for foreign applicants.

Tips for a successful NIH application

Below, we have also listed some tips for you:

Funding opportunity description

Carefully read through the funding opportunity description under Section I of the FOA to check whether your proposal fits the scope of the application.

Register early

Although foreign universities are eligible to apply for NIH funding, it should be taken into account that applicants from foreign institutions and international organisations must fulfil some additional requirements to register for electronic submission of grant applications. Registrations can be a lengthy process and foreign organisations should start the registration procedure on time.

Letter of Intent

Some FOAs require that you submit a Letter of Intent to allow IC staff to estimate the potential review workload and help plan the review. Always check whether you have to submit the Letter of Intent and when the deadline for submission is.


Be aware that budgets should be prepared in US dollars


Take into account the different time zones (and thus different deadline times) for submission of NIH grant applications.

Request assistance

Still not confident enough to find your way in the complex funding landscape of the NIH and the different ICs? ttopstart can help identify a program and funding opportunity and perform a thorough feasibility assessment prior to preparing a full application. Please contact us by filling out the form below to find out what we can do for you.

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