National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and five directors of NIH institutes April 2 testified on the fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget proposal before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS).
The Subcommittee gave Collins a warm welcome, and both Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-Okla.) noted that the reduced funding level proposed for the NIH in the administration’s FY 2020 budget request [see Washington Highlights, March 15 and March 22] does not align with the Subcommittee’s bipartisan support of medical research.
Chairwoman DeLauro, in her opening statement, noted the myriad benefits of medical research and positive impacts of NIH funding on local economies, emphasizing, “that is why I believe that funding this research has the power to do more good for more people than almost anything else within the purview of this subcommittee.” Full Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) also commented that she “would like to increase [the NIH] budget as much as we possibly can.”
Ranking Member Cole shared his view that the NIH receives broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, and that any funding increases for NIH for FY 2020 will depend on “whether or not we can have a larger [budget] deal that settles the budgetary issues across the board.” The AAMC April 2 signed a letter with nearly 850 organizations urging Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion to quickly address this budgeting issue and develop an agreement to raise spending caps for discretionary programs, emphasizing the importance of nondefense discretionary programs, such as the NIH, to the American economy.
In his oral testimony, Collins highlighted advances in supporting the next generation of researchers, progress in enrolling volunteers in the All of Us research program, and increased investments in Down syndrome research. Collins also shared the story of a sickle cell disease (SCD) patient who was treated using gene therapy at the NIH Clinical Center. That patient story of essentially curing her SCD was highlighted in a recent 60 Minutes newspiece, of which Collins shared an excerpt.
Subcommittee members lauded the agency’s work and inquired about a range of topics, including the NIH’s work to address increased rates of measles in the United States and to mitigate health disparities. In addition to questions about the agency’s progress in better understanding pain and addiction, two subcommittee members also asked about challenges imposed by the scheduling of drugs, which makes it harder for researchers to obtain the necessary materials.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) pressed Collins for updates on NIH-funded research using fetal tissue, given the Department of Health and Human Services’ “comprehensive review of all research involving fetal tissue” announced in September 2018 [see Washington Highlights, Sept. 28, 2018; Dec. 14, 2018]. Similarly, Rep. Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) inquired about NIH’s work to find alternatives to animal models, and Collins noted that while some animal models accurately replicate human disease, the NIH is also investigating the use of tissue chips to model human physiology.
Joining Collins were Diana Bianchi, MD, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Doug Lowy, MD, deputy director of the National Cancer Institute; Gary Gibbons, MD, director of the National Heart Lung and blood Institute; and Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Chairwoman DeLauro indicated that she intends to hold additional hearings with other NIH Institute directors who have not appeared before the Subcommittee in the recent past.
Collins will next testify before the Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee April 11.