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Washington Highlights

Appropriators Explore NIH Budget, Scientific Opportunities

March 28, 2014—The House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Subcommittee held a March 26 hearing to discuss the future of biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., testified at the hearing and was accompanied by National Cancer Institute Director Harold Varmus, M.D.; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, M.D.; National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke Director Story Landis, Ph.D.; and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Director Gary Gibbons, M.D.

Subcommittee Chair Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) opened the hearing by encouraging Dr. Collins to share more “see-and-tell" stories resulting from NIH-funded research so the public can understand the importance of NIH.

In her opening remarks, Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) discussed the health and economic benefits of NIH-funded research. “Given the priceless value of better health and longer lives for so many Americans, as well as these amazing rates of return, ensuring that the NIH is adequately funded should be a fundamental priority for this subcommittee,” she said.

However, she noted the decline in NIH’s budget and the loss of purchasing power, and expressed concern that only 58 percent of sequestration’s cuts were restored in the fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget. To this point, she said, “NIH is being forced to do less with less,” and added that cutting medical research would be an “incalculable loss.”

House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) echoed Rep. DeLauro’s remarks and said there is no agency she is “prouder to support.” Rep. Lowey said the nation cannot afford flat budgets that hamper innovation and stated it is a “top priority in this Subcommittee is to increase investments in biomedical research.”

In his opening remarks, Dr. Collins thanked the subcommittee for the FY 2014 omnibus appropriation that partially restored sequestration’s cuts and allowed NIH to “turn the corner this year.”

Dr. Collins noted the future of biomedical research has never been brighter and highlighted three areas of scientific opportunity: a universal flu vaccine, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, and targeted cancer treatments.

In particular, he described how researchers at the University of Pennsylvania use the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. According to his testimony, researchers collect T-cells from cancer patients and reengineer them to produce special proteins. When the modified cells are infused back into patients, they multiply and seek and destroy tumor cells. Dr. Collins noted the promising results of the clinical trial prompted Science magazine to name this therapy its 2013 Breakthrough of the Year.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) expressed concern that the administration’s FY 2015 budget proposes flat funding for the Institutional Development Award (IDeA), which helps to broaden the geographic distribution of NIH funding to eligible states. Dr. Collins noted the IDeA program is “important,” but pointed to NIH’s “stressed” budget. Should the budget situation improve, Dr. Collins said IDeA would be a beneficiary.

Chairman Kingston and Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) expressed concern that the Public Health Service (PHS) evaluation tap takes funding away from the NIH budget; however, Ranking Member DeLauro noted that the Labor-HHS Subcommittee requires and appropriates the tap.

Other members inquired about efforts to encourage young scientists to pursue research careers, the participation of women and minorities in Phases I and II of NIH-funded clinical trials, and research conducted in specific disease areas.

Contact:

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

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For More Information

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