Background: The objectives of this research were (a) to describe the current status of grant review for biomedical projects and programmes from the perspectives of international funding organisations and grant reviewers, and (b) to explore funders' interest in developing uniform requirements for grant review aimed at making the processes and practices of grant review more consistent, transparent, and user friendly.
Methods: A survey to a convenience sample of 57 international public and private organisations that give grants for biomedical research was conducted. Nine participating organisations then emailed a random sample of their external reviewers an invitation to participate in a second electronic survey.
Results: A total of 28 of 57 (49%) organisations in 19 countries responded. Organisations reported these problems as frequent or very frequent: declined review requests (16), late reports (10), administrative burden (7), difficulty finding new reviewers (4), and reviewers not following guidelines (4). The administrative burden of the process was reported to have increased over the past 5 years. In all, 17 organisations supported the idea of uniform requirements for conducting grant review and for formatting grant proposals. A total of 258/418 (62%) reviewers responded from 22 countries. Of those, 48% (123/258) said their institutions encouraged grant review, yet only 7% (17/258) were given protected time and 74% (192/258) received no academic recognition for this. Reviewers rated these factors as extremely or very important in deciding to review proposals: 51% (131/258) desire to support external fairness, 47% (120/258) professional duty, 46% (118/258) relevance of the proposal's topic, 43% (110/258) wanting to keep up to date, 40% (104/258) desire to avoid suppression of innovation. Only 16% (42/258) reported that guidance from funders was very clear. In all, 85% (220/258) had not been trained in grant review and 64% (166/258) wanted this.
Conclusions: Funders reported a growing workload of biomedical proposals that is getting harder to peer review. Just under half of grant reviewers take part for the good of science and professional development, but many report lack of academic and practical support and clear guidance. Around two-thirds of funders supported the development of uniform requirements for the format and peer review of proposals to help ease the current situation.