If you have been reading this column from the start, you know that my lab began working on Zika virus early in 2016, switching from poliovirus. Since then we have been generating results with Zika virus and applying for financial support. Unfortunately our first effort to secure funding fell short.
In August we sent an application to the NIH to support our work on Zika virus. NIH has many different mechanisms to support biomedical research; we chose to apply for an R21. From the NIH website: "The R21 grant mechanism is intended to encourage exploratory/developmental research by providing support for the early and conceptual stages of project development."
An R21 grant can be for up to two years and $275,000 in direct costs. No preliminary data are required—but in these competitive years, an R21 without some data is not likely to fare well. In our application we included what we think are very interesting findings on the effect of Zika virus infection on the developing brain. We proposed a set of experiments to use our system to answer fundamental questions about how the virus causes brain defects.
The grant application was reviewed last week, and sadly, the reviewers did not share our enthusiasm for the work: we got a score of 41. An R21 application with a score over 30 will not be funded. We have not yet received the reviewers’ comments, so we don’t know exactly what they didn’t like about the application. When we get the comments we will see if we can revise the application and resubmit it to the NIH.
Not getting the R21 application funded is somewhat of a problem for us. We have a five-year grant, an R01 (which supports longer-term research) which ends in May of 2017, and another R21 that is finished at the end of the same year. The immediate consequence is that we will have to curtail our work on Zika virus infection of mice—even before we have been able to complete a single experiment! But these studies are too expensive to continue, at least for now.
Readers of this column will also recall that we have applied for support of our Zika virus research from the March of Dimes. We will hear about the outcome of review of that proposal in November.
Meanwhile, my small Zika laboratory is working as hard as ever, keeping a positive outlook.