NIH held to flat funding in '07

Research advocates express 'grave concerns' over frozen budget for Fiscal 2007

By | February 7, 2006

President Bush yesterday (February 6) sent to Congress a flat $28.6 billion budget request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), freezing spending in Fiscal 2007 at the same level as this year. If enacted, it would be the fourth year in a row that NIH funding has failed to keep pace with the rate of biomedical inflation, estimated at 3.5% for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2006. Research advocates and representatives of professional societies yesterday expressed grave concerns that the spending freeze would weaken the nation's ability to conduct vital biomedical research, especially after NIH's budget was cut for the first time in more than three decades this year. The proposed freeze is "shortsighted in the extreme," said Jordan J. Cohen, president of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in a statement yesterday. The new proposal "continues to erode federal support for medical research." Because NIH's budget has failed to keep pace with biomedical inflation, "we are probably in the neighborhood of 10% below where we were in 2003 in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars," Dave Moore, AAMC's senior associate vice president for government relations, told The Scientist. "It's a continuation of a trend where the administration is trying to curtail discretionary spending while highlighting a couple of priority areas. As a result, everything else gets frozen or gets cut," he explained. As in previous years, the administration is focusing on national defense and security. NIH's portion of biodefense-related spending totals $1.9 billion, a 6.2% increase of $110 million. Much of that increase is to spur academia and industry to develop new drugs and countermeasures to be added to the strategic national stockpile. To help respond to the threat of pandemic and avian flu, NIH would receive $35 million to conduct clinical trials of pandemic flu vaccine. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the focal point for NIH's bioterrorism and pandemic research, would receive a 0.3% increase of $12 million to $4.4 billion. The Office of the Director (OD) would jump by $140 million -- or 26% -- to $668 million, largely to support bioterror countermeasures and NIH Roadmap initiatives. Other NIH institutes and centers would suffer small compensating cuts, mostly less than 1% each. "The budget request reflects the tough choices that had to be made to best preserve our investment in biomedical research and to support research for medical advancements that will improve people's health," NIH spokesman John T. Burklow told The Scientist. In Fiscal 2007, the number of competing (new) NIH research project grants (RPGs) would increase by 275 to 9,337, but funding levels would decline by 4%, or $136 million, to $3.3 billion. The number of non-competing (continuing) RPGs would decline by 917 to 26,468 with funding dropping by $77 million to $11.1 billion, a 0.7% loss. NIH estimates the overall success rate (the percentage of reviewed RPG applications that receive funding) would fall to 19%, down from approximately 21% in 2006. In contrast to the life sciences, the Bush Administration would boost the physical sciences, giving the National Science Foundation (NSF) slightly more than $6 billion, a $439 million -- or 7.9% -- increase. NSF's biological sciences directorate (BIO) would grow to $607.8 million, a 5.4% increase of $31.2 million. Projects include biological databases and informatics, continued planning for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), and support for molecular and cellular bioscience and integrative biological research. NIH's Fiscal 2007 funding request falls far short of a 5% increase recommended last month by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), and creates a greater urgency for a major lobbying campaign planned by research advocates to seek increased funding, said Carrie Wolinetz, FASEB's associate director of communications. "We need more scientists to meet with their representatives [in Congress] as soon as possible," she told The Scientist. "They need to talk about what they are doing in their labs and the impact of the president's budget." Links within this article T Agres, "Advocates plan budget push," The Scientist, January 6, 2006. AAMC statement, February 6, 2006. FASEB annual funding report, January 20, 2006. T Agres, "FASEB recommends 5% NIH boost," The Scientist, January 23, 2006.

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