Events

NAEVR Hosts Defense Research Funding Session at ARVO Annual Meeting

VRP Program Manager Tian Wang, PhD, speaks to the audience
VRP Program Manager Tian Wang, PhD, speaks to the audience

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the NAEVR Defense-related Vision Research Opportunities Session  was held in person at the ARVO Annual Meeting, held this year in Denver Colorado. The session had been held virtually the previous two years.

The session featured Department of Defense (DOD) Vision Research Program (VRP) Manager Q. Tian Wang, PhD, who spoke about the history and priorities of the VRP, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 awards that were recently selected by the VRP Program Committee, and the expected FY2022 VRP Program Announcement.

The VRP is one of 35 medical research programs managed by the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), which has a total FY2022 funding of $1.5 billion. Since its establishment by Congress in FY2009 and through FY2020, the VRP has funded 135 projects for a total of $133 million, with FY2021 awards currently being negotiated.

At NAEVR’s session Dr. Wang emphasized that, unlike the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant review process, CDMRP uses a two-tier review process—Peer Review first for scientific merit, and then Programmatic Review for military relevance, especially that which responds to DOD-identified research gaps identified in the Program Announcement.

Dr. Wang noted that the Pre-Announcement for the FY20202 VRP funding cycle was released on March 22, and that a full Program Announcement is expected by late May. Per the Pre-Announcement, the VRP will employ four award mechanisms: the Focused Translational Team Science Award (FTTSA), the Investigator-Initiated Research Award (IIRA, with two funding levels), theClinical Trial Award (CTA) and the Translational Research Award (TRA).

NAEVR Director of Government Relations David Epstein opened the session by reviewing the history of the VRP since it was first funded in fiscal year 2009, and its growth from an initial funding level of $5 million, to its current FY2022 funding level of $20 million. For FY2023, NAEVR and its allies are requesting that Congress fund the VRP at a level of $30 million. He emphasized to the audience that DOD funding opportunities are available to domestic and international researchers, and that those who navigate the VRP are more likely to apply for funding from other DOD programs with key words such as “sensory” and “rehabilitation” and for diseases with a vision impact.

After Dr. Wang’s presentation, Mr. Epstein moderated a panel of researchers—Tonia Rex, PhD (Vanderbilt University) and Joe Ciolino, MD (Schepens Eye Research Institute)—who spoke about their experiences in applying for funding from the VRP.  Dr. Ciolino discussed how his early submissions for funding were denied, but he learned from the experience and feedback from the Program Committee and has since received funding for two projects from the VRP as well as awards from two other CDMRPs. Dr. Rex, who has also received a total of four grants from three different CDMRPs, discussed how she received funding in the first round of grants from the VRP, which opened doors to interact with military medical personnel as well as wounded warriors, which helped her gain insights into the research gaps that would be the focus of future VRP funding announcements.

In addition to her appearance at NAEVR’s session, Dr. Wang attended the ARVO Annual Meeting and met one-on-one with researchers from Sunday through Tuesday at a private table in the NAEVR booth. These meetings allowed researchers to discuss their ideas for projects and gauge the potential interest of the VRP.

The presentation was recorded and is available on NAEVR’s website.

If you have questions about the DOD VRP, or are interested in joining NAEVR’s listserv to find out about important updates, please email David Epstein at DEpstein@eyeresearch.org.