National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, accompanied by the directors of five NIH institutes, April 11 testified before the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee regarding the agency’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget proposal.
The subcommittee gave Dr. Collins a warm welcome, though both Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) noted disappointment over the funding level proposed for the NIH in the administration’s FY 2019 budget request [see Washington Highlights, Feb. 16], released prior to enactment of the FY 2018 omnibus that bolstered NIH’s budget by $3 billion [see Washington Highlights, March 23].
Rep. DeLauro also expressed concern over proposals in the budget request to relocate three independent agencies, including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), under the NIH, and to limit NIH salary support for researchers. She observed, “I am concerned that reducing investigator salaries will further disadvantage academic research in comparison to what the private sector is offering in terms of salary, so I think the proposal needs further discussion.”
In his testimony, Dr. Collins highlighted how the NIH has been working to advance medical discovery, including attention to the next generation of researchers. He highlighted five key areas to success in science: stable funding support, a vibrant workforce, computational power, new technologies and facilities, and scientific inspiration.
“Thanks to you,” he said, “early stage researchers are now beginning to see – and are totally energized by – the concept of a stable trajectory of support. Your work over the last three years is helping us begin to reverse a distressing decade-long decline in NIH’s purchasing power for research.” Dr. Collins presented a chart showing a notable “surge” in the number of individual principal investigators supported by the NIH beginning in 2016, when funding for NIH began increasing substantially.
Subcommittee members lauded the agency’s work and inquired about a range of topics, including the NIH’s work to address the opioid epidemic. In addition to questions about the agency’s progress in better understanding pain and addiction, a few subcommittee members also asked about challenges imposed by the scheduling of drugs, which makes it harder for researchers to obtain the necessary materials. Rep. Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) also pressed Dr. Collins on recent reports about industry involvement in research related to alcohol use, and Dr. Collins indicated the agency was investigating the reports.
Joining Dr. 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, Ned Sharpless, MD, director of the National Cancer Institute, and Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.