National Institutes of Health
House and Senate conferees agreed to increase NIH’s budget to $30.7 billion in FY 2012, up $299 million from the previous year but $758 million less than the $31.7 billion proposed by President Barack Obama. But when an across-the-board 0.189% recission to all programs was applied, the total budget was trimmed to $30.6 billion, and the increase to $240 million. Still, the news for NIH was better than it could have been, since the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a cut of 0.6%, or $190 million, to the agency’s budget in September.
“To some degree, when you look at previous years, it’s an early Christmas gift, from the standpoint that it erases some of the uncertainty that researchers have faced, and now it allows them to concentrate 100% on going forward in solving diseases,” Jon Retzlaff, managing director of science policy and government affairs for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), told GEN.
AACR earlier this year called for lawmakers to approve a $33.3 billion budget for the agency, saying the extra funding was needed to pay for cancer research as well as make up for biomedical inflation.
Within NIH, Congress approved the creation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) with about $576.5 million in funds previously scattered among other centers within NIH. The money is 2.3% higher than its FY 2011 budget of $563.4 million, but 1% less than what Senate Appropriations proposed, and nearly 18% less than the $700 million spoken of by NIH director Francis Collins, Ph.D., when he first announced plans for this center earlier this year.
NCATS will include the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases (TRND) program, whose funding will remain steady from FY 2011 at $24 million, as well as the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN), which will receive $10 million to support its activities. That’s half the $20 million approved by Senate Appropriations, and a far cry from the $100 million initially proposed by NIH for CAN.
CAN was authorized by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enacted by President Obama last year but not funded until now. At the time CAN was envisioned to fund up to $15 million in grants annually to public and private sector R&D entities.
While CAN is still expected to fund grants, conferees said in a manager’s report that they “expect a high bar for any use of waiver authority for CAN matching funds; any use should be extremely limited to maximize funds toward the CAN goals.” Conferees also urged CAN to create general principles and measurable outcomes to track successes.
Among NIH’s three largest component institutes:
- National Cancer Institute: The conferees approved $5.082 billion for NCI, up 0.5% from $5.054 billion in FY 2011, not counting $4.163 million shifted to NCATS. President Obama sought a $141.722 million, or 2.8% increase, to $5.196 billion.
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: NIAID funding would increase nearly 0.5%, or $24.236 million, from about $4.475 billion in FY ’11 to $4.499 billion in FY 2012. This is nearly 8.5%, or $416.755 million, below President Obama’s proposal. The FY 2011 figure does not include $3.689 million shifted to NCATS.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Conferees agreed to spend $3.085 billion for NHLBI, down 0.5%, or $16.617, million from FY ’11, not counting $1.489 million shifted to NCATS, and down 2%, or $30.063 million, from President Obama’s request.
“In this environment, any increase is much appreciated,” Jennifer Zeitzer, legislative director for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, told GEN. “It’s still not what we need in terms of the scientific opportunity, but compared with the direct cut between 2010 and 2011, it’s definitely moving in the right direction.”