Biomedical research advocates are planning a major Congressional lobbying campaign to press for future budget increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) after the agency's Fiscal 2006 funding was cut for the first time in more than three decades. NIH ended up with $28.6 billion for the current fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2005, close to the Administration's request but a reduction of 0.1% from the previous year. Scientists could feel the impact in reduced funding and success rates of grant applications, budget analysts say.

"It's the first time in at least 30 years that there's actually been a cut to NIH's budget," said Jon Retzlaff, legislative relations director for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). "It sends a devastating message for anyone planning to get funding this year," said Dave Moore, associate vice president for governmental relations at the Association of American Medical Colleges...

Officials from these and other major biomedical research organizations plan to map out a Congressional lobbying strategy during next week's annual meeting of the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research Funding, a coalition of several hundred associations, societies, medical schools, and institutes that support increased NIH funding. In addition to FASEB and AAMC, other coalition members include the Association of American Universities, the American Society for Cell Biology, major universities and institutes such as Johns Hopkins and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

"If you like '06, you'll love '07," Moore joked to The Scientist, noting that the looming Federal deficit and priorities on national security and defense spending are not likely to change next fiscal year. "We're extremely concerned," Retzlaff said. "We have to mobilize everyone -- scientists, patients, and advocates -- to convey to Congress the importance of biomedical research," he told The Scientist. The president's Fiscal 2007 budget request is expected to be released the week of Feb. 6.

In December, the House and Senate approved a compromise 2006 Labor, HHS, Education appropriations bill (HR 3010) giving NIH 0.9% more than the White House had requested. But Congress also passed a 1% across-the-board cut in discretionary spending inserted into the Defense appropriations bill (HR 2863), to partially offset emergency disaster relief spending. As a result, NIH's net funding fell 0.1% over last year's. President Bush signed both measures into law last week (Dec. 30, 2005).

The reduced NIH budget fails to keep pace with the biomedical inflation rate, projected at 3.2% in Fiscal 2006. NIH had originally projected research project grant (RPG) funding in 2006 would grow by 0.4% to $14.9 billion. But the 1% funding reduction could lead to a 0.6% cut, according to an analysis by the AAAS. The number of new and competing RPGs could also shrink well below the 10,020 awarded in 2004, and the success rate for grant applications could dip below 20% after a high of 32% in 2001, AAAS says, depending on how institutes and centers absorb their budget cuts, which generally range from 0.4 to 0.7%. The exception is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which receives a 0.3% increase to $4.4 billion.

Also included in the Defense bill is $3.8 billion for avian flu preparedness, about half the $7.1 billion amount Bush requested in November 2005 to develop and stockpile countermeasures, boost surveillance, and improve public communications in case of an H5N1 pandemic. Attached to the Defense bill is a measure giving pharmaceutical and biotech companies immunity from lawsuits if they develop vaccines and drugs against bioterrorism and natural outbreaks. Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said the provision was necessary to entice the industry to develop needed countermeasures. But critics, such as Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), called the measure "a massive Christmas bonus to the drug companies."

Links within this article
T Agres, "US weighs biodefense measures," Dec. 5, 2005.
"AAAS R&D Funding Update on R&D in FY 2006 NIH Final Appropriation," Dec. 22, 2005.

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