The House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Subcommittee March 3 held a hearing to discuss the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) praised the agency and thanked NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., for his leadership, adding “[T]he scope of biomedical research supported through and at the NIH is wide and we are confident we will one day find cures for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.”
Chairman Cole also said that ensuring “a sufficient basic biomedical research base and supporting the next generation of researchers is critical to pave the way for these long-term advancements.” However, he cautioned that because of the funding realities and the return of sequestration in FY 2016, the subcommittee will not be able to fund everything the administration proposes for NIH.
Regarding budget constraints, Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) noted that despite slight increases in the NIH budget in recent years, it has not yet been restored to its pre-sequestration funding level. She also reiterated her view that “sequestration is a terrible policy for any budget” and described the impact of budget cuts on the agency. “In 2015, NIH will fund almost 1,000 fewer research projects than it did in 2010. We will never know how many scientific discoveries and medical breakthroughs the world may have missed out on because of this budget restraint. That is the disturbing context in which we consider the NIH budget request for fiscal year 2016.”
Adding to the urgency to restore NIH funding, House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) discussed international competiveness, stating the United States “must keep pace with the rest of the world.” She noted that while NIH funding remains below the FY 2010 level when adjusted for inflation, other countries, such as China, are making “substantial increases” in research. “While others are advancing, our investments in biomedical research are just not keeping up,” she said.
In response to these concerns, Dr. Collins said, “What NIH desperately needs…is a sense of stable trajectory so that we have the chance to be able to plan, to take risks, to do innovative research without the uncertainty about what will happen one year or the next.” Dr. Collins also said that while another doubling of the NIH budget would be “a nice thing…what would be even better would be an opportunity to see a path forward that keeps up with inflation plus a little bit and that we could count on and that people could basically then flex their innovative muscles and take advantage of this amazing talent that we have in this country.”
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) expressed concern that the administration proposes flat funding for the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program in FY 2016. Dr. Collins said the program received an additional $50 million in FY 2011, and noted the program has grown more rapidly than any other NIH program over a five-year period.
The subcommittee also expressed interest in the proposed Precision Medicine Initiative, the antimicrobial resistance and BRAIN initiatives, and research in areas such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and prescription drug abuse.
NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., was accompanied by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Facui, M.D.; National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Director Tom Insel, M.D.; National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Director Jon Lorsch, Ph.D.; National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow, M.D.; and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Director Gary Gibbons, M.D.