NAEVR and ARVO Host Special Inside the National Eye Institute Webinar

Michael Steinmetz, PhD, Director of Extramural Science Programs at the National Eye Institute (NEI
Michael Steinmetz, PhD, Director of Extramural Science Programs at the National Eye Institute (NEI)

On June 26, NAEVR and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) held a special Inside the National Eye Institute Webinar which was hosted by NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky and ARVO President Stephen Pflugfelder, MD, FARVO (Baylor College of Medicine), and featured Michael Steinmetz, PhD, Director of Extramural Science Programs at the National Eye Institute (NEI). More than 130 interested researchers participated.

Dr. Steinmetz first reviewed the Institute’s final FY2019 Operating Budget ($793.8 million, down from enacted $796.5 million due to a Secretary transfer) and its FY2020 Operating Budget of $823.3 million. Highlights included:

  • In each year, 85 percent of NEI’s budget was spent on the Extramural Program, 11 percent on the Intramural Program, and 4 percent on Research Support (Administration).
  • While the FY2019 NIH Success Rate was 20 percent, NEI’s was 28 percent, due to its focus on Research Project Grants (RPGs) and by maintaining the average costs of grants. RPGs reflect 73.2 percent of the Extramural budget.
  • Of NEI’s six program areas, Retinal Diseases leads with 44 percent of the budget, followed by Strabismus, Amblyopia & Visual Processing (23 percent), Corneal Diseases (13 percent), Glaucoma (10 percent), Lens & Cataract (7 percent), and Low Vision (3 percent).

Dr. Steinmetz emphasized that vision researchers have benefited from other NIH funding programs, such as the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Technologies (BRAIN) Initiative and the Regenerative Medicine Initiative, both mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act—a point that NAEVR has made frequently.Vision has received almost a quarter of Regenerative Medicine Initiative funding, while NEI estimates that “vision” (defined as past-funded NEI investigators and researchers studying brain circuitry through the visual route) in FY2019 received 80 new grants, or 44 percent of the 182 new grants, for a total of $93 million in new grant funding. [The six-year total of new grant funding to “vision” from BRAIN is more than $310 million.]   

He discussed changes in the NIH Peer Review process in detail, as well as the status and timeline of NEI’s Strategic Plan, developed as part of NIH’s overall Congressionally mandated Strategic Plan. He described NEI’s new Anterior Segment Initiative, designed to complement the Audacious Goals Initiative for retina, and which will consider inflammation, ocular pain, dry eye, and the ocular microbiome. In response to a Request for Information (RFI) which NEI issued in fourth quarter 2019, more than half of the 52 respondents (reflecting over 200 stakeholders) wanted NEI to support more work in inflammation, including new models for research, infectious disease, ocular pain, and regenerative medicine.

He concluded by reminding participants about a variety of COVID-19 Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs), especially since vision researchers have taken advantage of funding from several trans-NIH initiatives.