Mar 28 2012

Shelby: Funding NIH Must Be a High Priority

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor/HHS) today made the following statement at a Subcommittee hearing on the National Institutes of Health Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Proposal:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I want to thank Dr. Collins and the Center Directors who joined us today to discuss the important role the National Institutes of Health (NIH) plays in every American’s life. 

“For the millions of Americans suffering from a serious illness, biomedical research is the beginning of hope.  NIH-funded research investigates ways to prevent disease, understand its causes, and develop more effective treatments. 

“A continued commitment to NIH is essential to address our nation’s growing health concerns and to spur medical innovation for the next generation of treatments and cures.  Unfortunately, the NIH budget request for Fiscal Year 2013 abandons that commitment. 

“The proposed budget for NIH is $30.86 billion, which is claimed to be level funding from Fiscal Year 2012.  However, this amount does not take into account the additional funding the Department of Health and Human Services requested for Department-wide evaluation activities. 

“If this so-called “evaluation tap” is agreed to, it will reduce the NIH budget by $215 million, bringing the budget request below the Fiscal Year 2012 level.

“Further, the Administration’s request does not keep pace with biomedical research inflation.  As a result, in inflationary adjusted dollars, the NIH is 17 percent below where they were 10 years ago.  Without sustained support for the NIH, the translation of discoveries from “bench to bedside” will be dramatically slowed and the US will surrender its role as the world leader in scientific research.

“I do not agree with the funding level proposed by the Administration for the NIH.  I believe that NIH funding should be a priority and that its benefits extend well beyond its research discoveries. 

“In 2011, NIH research funding supported of 432,092 jobs nationwide.  Research carried out by the NIH and its network of 325,000 researchers at 3,000 institutions across the country serves the nation with the goal of improving human health. 

“However, Dr. Collins, I understand that your request attempts to live within the confines of the difficult budget environment. 

“That said, I am concerned about several of the proposed changes to awarding grant funding.  

“For example, you propose capping the grant amount that a principle investigator can receive at $1.5 million.  This proposal discourages success by limiting awards to some of the most successful scientists who, accordingly, receive the most grant funding. 

“NIH awards grants through a highly competitive, two-tiered independent peer-review process that ensures support of the most promising science and the most productive scientists. 

“By limiting grant award amounts, you are changing the system from one that grants awards based on science, merit, and good ideas to one based on whether an investigator has previously received a grant. 

“I am also troubled with the proposals to cap inflationary costs and reduce the average award of competing Research Project Grants below the Fiscal Year 2012 level.  While I recognize that you are trying to keep the success rate high and fund as many grants as possible, I question whether this is the right approach.  We do not want the only result of this change to be scientists spending more time chasing grants than making discoveries. 

“I understand that constrained budgets lead to tough decisions.  However, it is critical that the NIH not lose sight of its goal to fund the best science in the hope of reducing the burden of illness. 

“A fundamental part of the NIH’s success over the years has been that scientific need and opportunity have always dictated NIH funding priorities.  Dr. Collins, I caution you on opening the door to targeting particular diseases for funding as proposed in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.  The last thing I imagine you want is the President deciding what specific diseases deserve NIH research dollars.

“Finally, as we continue to operate in a tough budget environment, I think we need more out-of-the-box thinking to stimulate the research community in imaginative ways.  In particular, I want to highlight such an approach at the National Cancer Institute. 

“Dr. Varmus has started a new program to answer the “provocative questions” in cancer research.  This project focuses scientists on 24 unanswered, perhaps non-obvious, questions as defined by the research community.  With over 750 research teams submitting proposals, this project shows that there are innovative ways to energize the research community, even when budgets are constrained.

“As Congress faces unprecedented challenges to reduce government spending, we must all face the consequences of tough choices. 

“Certainly these are difficult times, but I believe biomedical research is a necessary and worthy investment in the health of our people and the vitality of our communities. 

“Funding for the NIH lays the foundation for drug and device discoveries over the next decade.  Biomedical research is the answer to lowering our nation’s health care costs.  This is not the time to abandon our commitment to the health of all Americans and the NIH.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”