Debbie Strickland

Biggest winner seems to be the NIH, which will receive $8.5 billion for research grants.

President Obama yesterday signed the $787 billion stimulus package into law, providing a bonus of $21.5 billion in science and research spending.  The president called the measure “the biggest increase in basic research funding in the long history of American’s noble endeavor to better understand our world.” 

The final numbers were higher than those proposed by either the House ($13.2 billion) or Senate ($17.8 billion).  In good news for the biotech industry, the NIH will receive $8.5 billion for research grants and $1.5 billion to upgrade research facilities.  Life sciences researchers and patient groups have been pushing for higher NIH funding in recent years, as the agency’s budget failed to keep up with medical inflation after doubling from 1998 to 2003. 

Dr. Richard Marchase, Ph.D., president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, praised the stimulus funding but hopes it is only “the first step forward towards a long-term, sustainable investment in both biomedical and other scientific research.” 

In addition to the NIH boost, the stimulus package’s R&D provisions also include $3 billion for the NSF, $4.5 billion for renewable energy research including bioethanol and other biotech solutions, $1.1 billion for grants for disease prevention, $1 billion for NASA, $830 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and $1.1 billion for comparative effectiveness research.  

Expect that last item to generate controversy going forward.  Comparative effectiveness research pits established therapies against one another to provide guidance to physicians and patients.  The biotech and pharmaceutical industry has supported comparative effectiveness research that focuses on clinical outcomes but has consistently opposed cost- or value-oriented research, which will be the focus under the stimulus package. 

The stimulus package also provides $17.2 billion in incentives to promote the adoption of improved healthcare information technology systems in clinics and hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid.  In addition, tens of billions have been provided to shore up Medicaid and help unemployed workers pay for extensions of their health insurance coverage under federal COBRA rules. 

Altogether, these measures, totaling $152 billion, could have a major impact on healthcare as administration and Congress prepare to take on reform in earnest.

Debbie Strickland is a GEN freelance writer.

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