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Second Opinion

Learn about policy issues important to medical schools and teaching hospitals, with Executive Vice President Atul Grover, M.D., Ph.D.

Washington Highlights

Senate Appropriators Discuss NIH Funding

March 30, 2012—The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee heard testimony from Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and several institute directors at a March 28 hearing regarding the agency’s FY 2013 budget.

In his opening remarks Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) praised NIH and said that because of the "hundreds of thousands of people who are supported by NIH funding, America is the world leader in biomedical research." But Harkin cautioned, "[H]ow long America can maintain that status is a matter of growing concern." Subcommittee members expressed concerns over the looming sequestration, the budget plan proposed by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and other countries increasing their investments in research.

Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) expressed similar concerns, saying that “for the millions of Americans suffering from a serious illness, biomedical research is the beginning of hope.” Senator Shelby said that he does not agree with the funding level proposed by the administration and believes that “NIH funding should be made a priority and that its benefits extend well beyond its research discoveries.” In addition, he noted that the administration’s request “does not keep pace with biomedical research inflation and as a result in inflationary adjusted dollars the NIH is 17 percent below where they were ten years ago. Without sustained support for the NIH, the translation of discoveries from bench to bedside will be dramatically slowed and the U.S. will surrender its role as the world leader in scientific research.”

In response to a question from Chairman Harkin on the impact of sequestration, Dr. Collins said the potential cut would translate to a $2.4 billion loss for NIH and result in roughly 2,300 fewer research project grants, almost a quarter of new and competing grants. Success rates for new applications would fall to historically low levels, and Dr. Collins said that he felt the burden would particularly be felt by first time investigators, who are the nation’s future innovators. Dr. Collins also noted that sequestration would hinder efforts of both basic and clinical research.

Ranking Member Shelby expressed concerns about the eligibility requirements of the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, saying that many institutions that could benefit from the program are deemed ineligible due to the success of another institution within the same state. While the FY 2012 appropriations bill included report language encouraging NIH to revise the eligibility criteria, NIH provided no update in its FY 2013 Congressional Justification. Dr. Collins noted that Congress is responsible for the eligibility criteria but that he would be happy to work with them to explore changes.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) praised the National Children’s Study (NCS) as an “impressive” way of assessing risk factors in children, but questioned NIH’s findings that the study’s geographic approach for recruitment is “too expensive.”  Dr. Collins said that the NIH learned that there are many ways to conduct the study more effectively and efficiently, saving the taxpayers money. Instead of “knocking on doors,” the main study will work through geographically distributed providers to collect data. Noting that not all children have coverage, Dr. Collins said they are working to develop ways to collect information that represents groups from a range of socioeconomic status.

Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) asked how the newly created National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) will turn medical discoveries into life saving treatments and cures. Thomas Insel, M.D., acting director of NCATS, said that "all 27 institutes and centers at the NIH have an investment in this kind of translation, going from fundamental discoveries to making changes in health." He told the subcommittee that NCATS will attempt to develop methodologies and tools to develop new procedures that make it easier for the other 26 institutes and centers to succeed. As an example, Dr. Insel described a process to screen drugs to see whether they may be effective for other conditions

Senator Shelby asked about the potential for collaboration between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and NIH to move breakthroughs more quickly into the hands of patients. Dr. Collins acknowledged the need for collaboration and told the subcommittee that he and FDA Commission Margaret Hamburg, M.D., have formed a joint council with senior leadership from both organizations to identify the areas that are most in need of collaboration.

Senator Moran remarked that one of the reasons reduced or flat funding for the NIH is so troubling is because “it sends a message to the next generation, the potential researchers, scientists, and physicians that the certainty of their career path or the value of what they do is not recognized.” Dr. Collins responded that it is indeed a “scary time” for new investigators because they have seen the likelihood of funding decrease from 25-35 percent to a “grim” 17 percent.

Contact:

Dave Moore
Senior Director, Government Relations
Telephone: 202-828-0559
Email: dbmoore@aamc.org

Alexandra Khalife
Legislative Analyst
Telephone: 202-828-0418
Email: akhalife@aamc.org

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Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806
Email: jkleinman@aamc.org