Impact of a Reviewer Exchange Consortium

Sharing expertise across universities adds value to pilot funding programs

October 22, 2019

Faced with peer review challenges, pilot funding programs at nine Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) hubs have formed a consortium to facilitate reviewer exchanges. Preliminary results suggest that the model is achieving its goal of facilitating efficient and rigorous scientific reviews.

CEREC was established in 2016 to provide an outlet for obtaining external reviews for CTSA-funded pilot research and to minimize the likelihood of bias and conflicts of interest. CEREC also offers a larger pool of expertise from which to draw precisely matched reviews for scientific lines of inquiry that may not be well represented within the institution receiving the proposal. 

This consortium is made up of institutes supported by the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) Clinical and Translational Science Awards competitively awarded to the medical schools/institutions of higher learning indicated below.

How Does CEREC Work?

When a new round of pilot proposals require review, each participating CTSA identifies and solicits reviewers within their pool of investigators. Investigators who agree to review are then connected to the requesting site for instructions and next steps. Each institution utilizes CEREC a bit differently, from the number of reviews requested per pilot proposal to the logistics of the external review process itself. This flexibility is undoubtedly part of the success of the program. CEREC members stay in touch with emails and monthly teleconferences.

CEREC leverages the resources and knowledge base of nine CTSA hubs across the nation to enable the efficient exchange of reviewer expertise to support internal pilot funding programs.

Through collaboration, CEREC develops strategies that promote methodological excellence, scientific transparency and innovation while minimizing conflict of interest in the review process of applications for pilot funding opportunities.

A recent publication entitled, "The CTSA External Reviewer Exchange Consortium (CEREC): Engagement and Efficacy," was released on October 2, 2019 describing CEREC's engagement and efficacy. Results from a survey of CTSA staff and expert reviewers indicate that the exchange model is highly productivity (368 reviews received for 23 RFAs and counting) and adds value to participating partners.

Future Directions

CEREC enables the rapid dissemination of innovative approaches to all phases of CTSA pilot program management, from application to closeout. Novel techniques shared at the meeting included using a REDCap system to receive and review pilot applications and using SmartSheet, a cloud-based project management tool, to track pilot projects throughout the award year.

Other ideas addressed how to identify internal and community pilot reviewers, how to expeditiously comply with NCATS prior approval guidelines, and meaningful ways to thank pilot reviewers for their invaluable contributions. CEREC members also discussed potential metrics, beyond those required by NCATS’s Common Metrics initiative, by which to gauge pilot success.

CEREC members finalized their Manual of Procedures (MOP) during their face-to-face meeting on January 2018. CTSA administrators who are interested in receiving a copy or starting a new CEREC group should contact Dr. Margaret Schneider at Researchers at USC and CHLA who are interested in serving as reviewers should contact

This work was supported by the following awards from the National Institutes of Health (NCATS): 5UL1TR001855-03 (USC); 5UL1TR001414-04 (UC Irvine); 3UL1TR001414-04S1 (Supplement); 1UL1TR002541-01 (Harvard Catalyst); 5UL1TR001417-04 (University of Alabama at Birmingham); 1U54TR001629-01 (University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences); 5UL1TR002319-02 (University of Washington); 1UL1TR002733-01 (The Ohio State University); 1UL1TR002649-01 (Virginia Commonwealth University); 5UL1TR001436-04 (Medical College of Wisconsin). The following individuals also contributed to the success of CEREC: Gary S. Gray, Angela Schmeckebier, Bonnie Berry, and Christine Zeller.

Learn more about the CEREC initiative here.

NIH Funding Acknowledgment: Important - All publications resulting from the utilization of SC CTSI resources are required to credit the SC CTSI grant by including the NIH funding acknowledgment and must comply with the NIH Public Access Policy.