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Put your money where your science is
May 2017
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author
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So, with a looming federal government shutdown once again staring the U.S. Congress in the face, Democrats and Republicans were finally motivated to work together, compromise and find common ground to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal 2017 year, which closes Sept. 30. Thus we have roughly $1.1-trillion omnibus appropriations legislation.
 
Now, of course, we get to look forward to probably going through a situation like this yet again when legislators and others start to see the end of the next fiscal year approaching.
 
But, amid my governmental griping, there is a huge bright spot for the life-sciences world, and that is an increase in the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to $34.1 billion, which is nearly a $2-billion increase. Considering that it a little over a month earlier there was talk from the White House of cutting the NIH budget by around 19 percent, that’s huge.
 
That was part of the $77.7 billion in discretionary funding outlined in the omnibus bill for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—a $2.7-billion increase over the comparable fiscal 2016 level.
 
Within NIH’s $2-billion boost are some specific earmarks for the organization: $1.39 billion for Alzheimer’s disease research (up $400 million), $5.7 billion for the National Cancer Institute (up nearly $476 million), $320 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative (up $120 million) and $260 million for the BRAIN Initiative (up $110 million)—in addition, $463 million to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will see a $7.3-billion budget, representing a more modest $22-million increase in total funding. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will see an increase of $103 million in total funding (including user fee revenue), bumping it up to nearly $4.7 billion.
 
I’ve see far too many years where the government trimmed critical institutions like these (or literally these ones) or flat-funded them for extended periods. And, as we all know, costs don’t generally go down, so years of flat-funding is sort of a budget cut in and of itself. So I’m pleased to see boosts on the research side and better funding of the regulatory side as well.
 
As Leerink Research noted in its analysis of the numbers, “With the appropriations already in place for FY2017, it does sets up a solid base given two years of consecutive 6-percent proposed increases in NIH budget (FY2015-FY2017). We believe that bodes well for future appropriations, though NIH funding will continue to remain discretionary—highlighting the need of support medical research in the budget every year. We do believe that scrutiny of indirect costs at U.S. universities and academic institutes is likely to get heightened as the risk for potential future cuts cannot be denied given the discretionary nature of the funding which has to be appropriated annually.”
 
Also, from Dr. Clifford A. Hudis, CEO of the American Society of Clinical Oncology: “We applaud Congress for its leadership in providing an additional $2 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health. This increase reaffirms the United States’ longstanding, bipartisan commitment to scientific research, and will reinvigorate the scientific community as it continues to rebuild after a decade of flat funding.”
 
Obviously, I’m a fan of this budgetary decision. So many things can be (and are) argued ideologically when it comes to government funding and support—farm subsidies, Planned Parenthood, the military, arts funding, oil subsidies, public radio and more—but I don’t understand the calls throughout the years to let funding of the NIH wither or worse, as we saw recently, proposing huge cuts. This is the health of our nation and the integrity of our science at stake. If there are any agencies I want to make sure get at least single-digit percentage increases each year, you can be sure to count the NIH, the CDC and the FDA among them.

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