Pfizer is changing the way it funds medical education to make smarter use of a shrinking pool of funds and to enhance the impact of activities it supports, the firm said.

The company will divide education into two tracks. Track One will be RFP-driven and will focus on a smaller group of clinical areas. To get funds, the community must demonstrate real solutions to real educational needs,  members of Pfizer’s medical education grants department said during a webinar. Some RFPs are expected in the spring.

Unsolicited requests for funding of live meetings will be accepted through Track Two, starting Jan. 1. Only live US national and regional meetings where new data is being presented will be funded, and Pfizer will cap dollar amounts. The company will no longer accept unsolicited grant requests for enduring or online activities.

That’s a shift on several fronts for Pfizer, which has until now accepted applications in a largely unsolicited manner. RFPs issued through Track One will be awarded for education most expected to impact healthcare quality, consistent with the growing trend toward funding these kinds of activities, rather than didactic, update-oriented education.

An external review board comprising experts in the medical and educational fields will decide on the RFPs, another big change, and Pfizer pledged to increase transparency by disclosing the members of the external boards, the answers to RFPs, and the grants it supports.

“There’s still a lot left to do,” said Maureen Doyle-Scharff, senior director, team lead, in Pfizer’s medical education group, of all of the changes. “We are still working through a lot of details.”

The new process represents the biggest change to Pfizer grant-making since its move toward regional grant management in 2007, in which a group of directors was hired to fund education by geographic area.

Some things are not changing. Pfizer will continue to support knowledge-based CE at live meetings in more than 20 clinical areas, as well as large multifaceted projects designed to improve healthcare.

In 2008, the firm announced that it would no longer support accredited CME programs directly through commercial providers. While Pfizer plans to develop RFPs that may broaden the number and types of organizations that may request support, according to another member of the grants department, “The expectation continues that those organizations [responding to an RFP] be not-for-profit.”