The NIH Director's Pioneer Award is part of the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, which also includes the NIH Director's New Innovator Award, the NIH Director's Transformative Research Award, and the NIH Director's Early Independence Award. The program is part of the NIH Common Fund, which supports cross-cutting programs that are expected to have exceptionally high impact. All Common Fund initiatives invite investigators to develop bold, innovative, and often risky approaches to address significant problems with no clear solution or to seize new opportunities that offer the potential for rapid progress.
To be considered pioneering, the proposed research must reflect ideas substantially different from those being pursued in the investigator’s research program or being pursued elsewhere. The Pioneer Award is not intended to expand a current research program's funding in the area of the proposed project. While the research direction may have as its foundation the applicant’s prior work and expertise, it cannot be an obvious extension or scale up of a current research enterprise which could be anticipated to be competitive as a new or renewal R01 application. Rather, the proposed project must reflect a fundamental new insight into the potential solution of a problem, which may derive from the development of exceptionally innovative approaches and/or from the posing of radically unconventional hypotheses. Applications for projects that are extensions of ongoing research should not be submitted.
Pioneer awardees are required to commit the major portion (at least 51%) of their research effort to activities supported by the Pioneer Award research project in the first three years of the project period. Effort expended toward teaching, administrative, or clinical duties should not be included in this calculation. Awardees will be allowed to reduce effort to 33% and 25% in the fourth and fifth years, respectively, to help them transition to other sources of support since Pioneer Awards cannot be renewed. Applicants with current research commitments exceeding 49% must provide a detailed explanation describing how their effort on existing grants will be adjusted to permit them to devote the required minimum effort to the Pioneer Award project. Applicants who will not be able to meet this requirement should not submit applications.