Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel


Besides favoring older investigators, the current peer-review system can tend to drive award decisions toward conservative research that is based on precedent and is consensus-oriented. As a result, public funding for research can gradually shift from investments in bold, transformational discovery to much more incremental research.

The Council on Competitiveness proposes in the 2004 report Innovate America that the nature of discovery-focused research creates a need for government support. However, federal research support since the Cold War has become more conservative, focusing on short-term, incremental, low-risk goals. Outside the government, the council believes that risk-based investments are also needed to promote innovation. Investors tend to focus on short-term profits and are unwilling to accept the risks that come with investing in a long-term research project (see Figure HRR-1).1 The report recommends the following:

  • Reallocate 3% of all federal-agency R&D budgets toward grants that invest in novel, high-risk, and exploratory research.

  • Provide a 25% tax credit for early-stage investments of at least $50,000 through qualified angel funds.2

In the United States, NIH has, through its Roadmap initiative, also begun to seed more innovative, high-risk research. “The past two decades have brought tremendous scientific advances that can greatly benefit medical research,” the Roadmap argues. “While progress will continue into the foreseeable future, human health and well-being would benefit from accelerating the current pace of discovery. One way to achieve this goal is to support scientists of exceptional creativity who propose highly innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research. NIH has traditionally supported research projects, not individual investigators. However, complementary means might be necessary to identify scientists with ideas that have the potential for high impact, but that may be too novel, span too diverse a range of disciplines, or be at a stage too early to fare well in the peer review process.” As part of this initiative, NIH has created the NIH Director’s Pioneer Awards “to encourage creative, outside-the-box thinkers to pursue exciting and innovative ideas about biomedical research.” The first Pioneer Awards were granted in 2004.3


Council on Competitiveness. Innovate America. Washington, DC: Council on Competitiveness, 2004.




National Institutes of Health, NIH Roadmap. “High Risk Research.” 2005. Available at:

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement