One of the greatest compliments we receive is when our grant recipients tell us how pleased they are with our vetting and peer review process. One such recipient recently told us how “collaborative” it is and that it made their research approach even better.
Since our early days, following the founding of The Campbell Foundation by Richard Campbell Zahn, we realized how it important it was to have experts in the field of infectious disease to help us review the scientific and technical aspects of the grant proposals we would be receiving.
It’s important to understand that when Richard passed away in 1995 and the foundation was formed, it was before AZT had become an accepted antiretroviral therapy and there were very limited options for those with HIV/AIDS. Deaths were still common due to opportunistic infections that overcame those living with the virus.
Richard wanted his money to be used to fund novel, ground-breaking research into HIV/AIDS. To make that happen, we reached out to a couple of Miami-based doctors who knew Richard personally to ask for their advice and for referrals to any doctors who might be interested in assisting us.
To save on consulting costs, and to ensure that as much money as possible would go toward research, we asked them to serve pro bono. To our great surprise, they agreed. Thus, the Peer Review Board (PRB) was born!
From its humble beginnings of a half-dozen doctors, we started recruiting more physicians and clinicians from around the country to add their expertise to our PRB. We felt that our grantees would benefit from a wider-ranging set of eyes from all regions of the U.S. to help us vet each grant on the merits of a) feasibility, b) relevancy, and c) cost effectiveness.
Today, we have 14 PRB members. When one has to step down, we ask the other members for referrals so we can always keep the best minds on tap. We also have been able to recruit ad hoc reviewers in cases where the grant proposal was in an area outside of their expertise (i.e. HIV dental studies, specific pediatric studies, etc.).
Our process is straight-forward: We invite researchers to submit a Letter of Intent (LOI) which is vetted in-house for applicability to our funding mission, verifying each grant seeker’s IRS nonprofit standing, etc. When a full grant proposal is invited, it takes its turn in line and then goes to the PRB. Recommendations range from outright “Yes” reviews in favor of funding a project, outright “No” reviews against funding, and “More info needed” reviews, which seek to flesh out further details about technical aims and/or scientific direction of the project. Our PRB knows that while the majority of the grants we receive are ‘ground-floor’ projects, we look for those that will have a direct impact on the HIV research/care community within five to seven years.
Our PRB also helps us re-evaluate grant requests in cases where a proposal has a relatively positive first round, but needs some tweaking or points clarified. The PRB also reviews the requested budgetary items to make sure they are in line with the work to be completed.
Their guidance, expertise and input are invaluable and have made The Campbell Foundation’s review process one of the most thorough and transparent in the field. Grantees have told us they appreciate the feedback and constructive commentary – even in those cases when a grant is denied funding.
Thanks to our pro bono PRB, The Campbell Foundation has awarded more than $10 million in HIV/AIDS research projects around the world. They are an integral tool in helping us carry out our mission of making HIV/AIDS history and we are grateful to them for the time and effort they put into making the process as successful as it has been.