Advocates Shaky That NIH Funding Remains Steady

Apr 4 2014

Advocates Shaky That NIH Funding Remains Steady

NIH fundingAdvocates for biomedical research expressed their disappointment in President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, which includes a slight rise in funding for the National Institutes of Health. This modest boost is expected to support 9,326 new and competing grants, 329 more than this year.

The FY15 budget includes $30.2 billion for NIH to back research at institutions across the U.S. NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, told the Wall Street Journal that his agency is “grateful that in a tough budget year, the NIH was able to get an increase.” However, he noted that NIH is about $500 million behind where it was in the Obama administration’s proposed fiscal-year 2012 budget.

The research community had hoped that the 2015 budget would help to make up for lost ground following the devastating sequestration last year, which resulted in a 5 percent cut to NIH’s budget. Instead, they continue to worry that keeping funding levels at status quo will not sustain the fast pace of scientific innovation. Several research advocacy groups are calling on the administration and Congress to make a significant investment in NIH funding during their budget negotiations.

“The United States once stood firmly at the forefront of the research revolution, but after a decade of budgets that have not kept pace with inflation and last year’s across-the-board sequestration cuts, NIH has seen a more than 20 percent decline in its purchasing power and can only fund one in every seven research grants it receives,” wrote the United for Medical Research in a statement. “As such, the U.S. is slipping in its position as the global leader in the life sciences.”

The $30.2 billion proposed in the budget, adjusted for inflation, would be $100 million lower than the 2002 funding level for the NIH. Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, reiterated that insufficient funding levels for federal research and health agencies jeopardize scientific discovery and its capacity to improve health outcomes and stem the explosion of chronic diseases.

“We simply cannot sustain our nation’s research ecosystem, combat costly and deadly diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, and create quality jobs with anemic funding levels that threaten the health and prosperity of Americans,” Woolley wrote in a statement. In his budget message, President Obama emphasized the importance of biomedical research and proposed an Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative that would provide an additional $970 million for NIH, which would support about 650 additional new grants. But an analysis of federal policy reported in Inside Higher Ed described this potential windfall as “almost fanciful” because the new initiative would depend on Congress reaching consensus on major changes in the tax code.

While The Science Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of the nation’s leading public and private research universities, appreciated the signs of President Obama’s “commitment to world-class science and research,” it remains wary about the long-term funding trends.

“The result is that we now face an innovation deficit — the gap between needed and actual federal investments in research and higher education,” stated Jon Pyatt, 2014 president of The Science Coalition. “We urge Congress to make investments in research and education a national priority. Only by doing so can we close the innovation deficit and truly put our nation back on a track for long-term economic health, well-being, and security.”

Philip R. Johnson, MD
Director, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute
Chief Scientific Officer and Executive Vice President