NCCIH Research Blog

Points To Consider in Your Natural Products Research Grant Application

February 22, 2021

D. Craig Hopp, Ph.D.

D. Craig Hopp, Ph.D.

Deputy Director

Division of Extramural Research

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

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Wendy J. Weber, N.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.

Wendy J. Weber, N.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.

Branch Chief

Clinical Research in Complementary and Integrative Health Branch

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

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The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) maintains a robust and diverse portfolio of investments in natural products research. This portfolio includes both preclinical and clinical studies. We’d like to share some key points in our approach to funding research on natural products.

Product Integrity

If you buy a dozen bottles of dietary supplements containing the same herb or other ingredient, you’re likely to end up with 12 products that vary substantially in composition. The products may have been made from different raw materials, extracted and processed differently, and formulated into tablets or capsules in different ways with different added ingredients. In addition, some products might contain more or less of the main ingredient than stated on the label or might be contaminated or adulterated with other substances. Therefore, each product may be absorbed, distributed, or metabolized differently when consumed, and may act differently in the body as a result.

It is essential for all natural products used in NCCIH-supported studies to be well characterized. We have established a Natural Product Integrity Policy to ensure that the results of these studies can be properly interpreted, accurately compared with other research findings, and confidently replicated. Investigators need to include enough product information in their grant applications so peer reviewers can evaluate the justification for using a specific product and the proposed methods for characterizing and standardizing it. This is something to consider early in the development of your application.

The Research Pipeline

NCCIH’s overall philosophy for research on natural products can be envisioned as a pipeline. The entrance of the pipeline is very wide and represents basic research on many types of natural products and biological activities. The end of the pipeline is very narrow and represents a very small number of large-scale clinical efficacy research trials.  

The middle of the pipeline includes a variety of early- and mid-phase clinical trials to gather the preliminary data needed before a definitive efficacy trial can be considered. These studies address issues such as examining a product’s pharmacokinetics, establishing a biological signature (if possible), choosing an appropriate population for study, selecting outcome measures, and optimizing dose and formulation.

NCCIH views these preliminary clinical studies as essential “building blocks” to establish an evidence base for an efficacy trial, and we have issued funding opportunity announcements specifically intended to support these stages of research. As you plan your application, consider what’s already known about the natural product you want to study and what more needs to be learned. Which building blocks are still missing? This will help you determine which funding opportunity would be most appropriate.

Find Out More

You can find more information in the article National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Perspectives on Clinical Research Involving Natural Products that we published last fall in Drug Metabolism and Disposition. Our article also gives details about NCCIH’s natural products research investment and how our approach to funding research in this area has changed over the years.

Planning To Apply? Contact Us Early

If you’re planning to apply to NCCIH for natural products research funding, please contact us early in the development of your grant application. We want to work with you to determine whether your research interest fits within NCCIH’s mission, and if it does, which funding opportunity is most appropriate for your proposed study. Please use our general email form to submit your questions to the Division of Extramural Research, and a program director will respond.

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