National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins and five directors of NIH institutes testified on the importance of biomedical research before a US House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee, in light of proposed budget cuts to the NIH budget for the 2018 fiscal year. The hearing was held yesterday morning (May 17) before the subcommittee that manages the budget for the Department of Health and Human Services—the same committee that negotiated the $2 billion increase to the NIH budget for the 2017 fiscal year.
Collins and his colleagues credited the NIH for recent advancements in treating and managing disease, including sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, metastatic breast cancer, Ebola, and Zika. They also touted economic returns from federal research investments. For instance, Collins said the U.S. has seen a 1 percent drop in the death rate for cancer over the past 20 years, and “each one percent drop [in death rate from cancer] is estimated by economists to be worth $500 billion to our economy.”
The $8 billion cut proposed by President Donald Trump would be the equivalent of cutting 5,000 to 8,000 grants, and would completely eliminate the Fogarty International Center—an NIH agency dedicated to preventing and mitigating disease outbreaks abroad—according to Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). The economic repercussions, said Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), would amount to losses of nearly 90,000 jobs and more than $15 billion in economic activity. “America would cede our global stature, and medical advances could be stalled,” said Lowey.
During the hearing, Lowey said the Trump administration has stated that “the private sector can pick up the slack, and that advances in innovation would not suffer,” as a result of the cuts. Responding to Lowey’s statement, Collins disagreed: rather, he said, leaders from the private sector rely on the NIH for basic science.
Most subcommittee members agreed with Collins and his colleagues, and multiple members referred to the need for biomedical research as a bipartisan issue.
“Everyone on this committee recognizes the importance of restoring purchasing power to the NIH,” said Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK). “Investment in the NIH has been the key driver in making the U.S. the world leader in biomedical research and has led to vast improvements in life expectancy and quality of life.”