Alex Philippidis Senior News Editor Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

Johns Hopkins University came in first with $637.552 million, 4% more than last year.

NIH dodged a bullet last month when Congress approved a 1% increase to its funding compared to fiscal year 2011. NIH will have a $30.6 billion budget for FY 2012, while in FY ’11 the agency saw its funding cut by nearly 1% from the previous federal fiscal year.

The FY ’11 spending cut did not significantly affect the top five grant recipients of the previous year in terms of knocking them off the top five list. NIH’s reduced budget did not necessarily mean an organization ended up with lower grant award totals; even though three of the top five universities did win less money from NIH, one of them actually won more awards, and in fact, the top two universities won more NIH money than in FY ’10.

As for FY ’12, which began October 1, 2011, NIH (like all federal institutions) subsisted the first part of the year on continuing resolutions that cut 1.5% compared to FY 2011 spending. Once Congress approved the Labor-HHS-Education portion of the budget, NIH got that roughly 1% boost. Hence for fiscal 2012, the top five grant recipients are not likely to see dramatic changes in either direction to their NIH funding.

Largest Awards Doled Out

In FY 2011, as in the previous fiscal year, Johns Hopkins University (JHU) was awarded the largest amount of NIH funding: $637.552 million. That is 4% more than the $610.467 million it won in FY 2010. The number of grant awards also rose during the period to 1,258 from 1,223.

Coming in second in FY ’11 was the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) with $527.611 million. It showed the largest gain among the top-five universities, jumping nearly 11% from $475.4 million. UCSF’s number of grant awards rose year-over-year to 1,052 from 1,020.

Third place was held by the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (U-M) even though its total NIH grant awards dipped 1.1%, from almost $470.518 million in FY 2010 to just under $465.17 million. The dip in grant funding came despite a slight increase in total number of grants awarded, from 1,052 to 1,062.

Fourth place among NIH-funded organizations in FY 2011 was the University of Pennsylvania, which received about $463.485 million. It dropped 3.75% from nearly $481.56 million the previous fiscal year. The number of awards dipped as well to 1,079 from 1,121 in FY 2010.

Finishing fifth was the University of Washington (UW), which won $447.29 million in NIH grants during FY 2011, down 5.6% from $474.042 million. The number of grants likewise decreased to 937 from 955 a year earlier.

NIH generally gives annual authorization for funding on multiyear awards, and frequently awards will have funds carried over from one year to the next. During FY 2011, a major portion of funds would have been reimbursed on previous FY awards, Lynne U. Chronister, assistant vice provost for research and director of sponsored programs at the University of Washington, told GEN. “Due in large part to ARRA funding in 2010, the 2011 report on expenditures were higher than the 2011 awards.”

For example, NIH expenditures recorded for 2011 were $538.7 million. This included $177.7 million for salaries and wages, $8.6 million for scholarships and stipends, $19.4 million for equipment, and about $115 million for subcontracts, which reflect extensive partnering with other research entities.

Programs that Benefitted the Most

The largest NIH grants in FY 2011 for Johns Hopkins, UCSF, and UPenn were given to their clinical and translational science institutes: $15.441 million for JHU’s Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ICTR); about $18.819 million for UCSF’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI); and $9.885 million for the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics (ITMAT) of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

The universities are three of some 60 biomedical institutions nationwide that run such institutes through NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) initiative. Johns Hopkins is in the final year of its five-year, $100 million award announced in 2007, during CTSA’s second round of awards. For UCSF, it’s the first installment of a second five-year award of $112 million, part of a bigger $498 million award to 10 institutions announced in July. UPenn’s ITMAT was one of the 10 institutes and received a second five-year award of $55 million.

U-M’s largest grant during FY 2011 was $10.895 million. It covered the year’s portion of the National Institute on Aging-funded Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal panel study that has been surveying a representative sample of more than 26,000 Americans over age 50 every two years since 1992.

UW’s largest NIH award in FY 2011 was a $13.584 million grant awarded for the university’s Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC). The grant is designed to assist researchers in conducting research using nonhuman primate models (NHP) for human health-related and NHP biologic issues.

How the Money Is Spent

The percentage of grant funds going to new equipment has declined even as personnel costs remain the largest single expense funded by NIH grants, according to Chronister. “None of the agencies are funding equipment and infrastructure the way they used to,” Chronister said. “In recent years especially, the percentage of funding spent on equipment has decreased.”

Institutions typically use a third of the funding to cover overhead costs—the cost of maintaining existing facilities or building new ones, electricity, telecommunications. Most of the remaining two-thirds of funding received gets divided up in a variety of ways, S. Claiborne Johnston, M.D., Ph.D., director of CTSI, told GEN. “I’d say a good chunk of that is the cost of personnel. So that’s a third to a half, maybe. And then the rest is maybe equipment or supplies or space rental.”

An exception to that split comes in smaller “pilot” grants awarded directly to research projects. “That makes up probably only 10% of our total budget,” Dr. Johnston said.

UCSF, on the other hand, expects to spend two-thirds of its award for the Epilepsy Phenome/Genome Project (EPGP) on direct costs associated with phenotyping patients, Daniel H. Lowenstein, M.D., director of the UCSF Epilepsy Center, told GEN. “The remaining third is administration, and a significant amount of that in the first two years was in building up the informatics.”

In FY 2011, UCSF won a nearly $3.936 million piece of a five-year, $15 million grant from NINDS toward EPGP. Cohorts of patients and DNA samples developed through EPGP will be used in the NINDS-funded Epi4K Center Without Walls, a new $25 million multi-institution research effort to undertake whole exome and whole genome sequencing of at least 4,000 people with epilepsy.

“Our contracts are such that the money is given only when the work is done. It’s not paying a percent effort of an individual,” Dr. Lowenstein said. “It’s all based on how much direct activities they complete with each enrollment.”

Importance of the NIH

Chronister noted that about 70% of UW external support—$1.51 billion in awards for sponsored projects in FY 2011—came from NIH and other federal agencies. In part due to ARRA, UW funding from NIH has increased consistently even with budget fluctuations and a re-alignment of research priorities.

“With the economic downturn, both private sources such as industry and non-profit associations and foundations have generally been reducing their investments into research,” Chronister said. “For life science, health, and medical research, NIH is the primary source of support for basic or discovery research. Most other sponsoring organizations have narrower funding priorities.”

That explains why UW and other universities, institutes, and businesses have scrambled to maintain NIH funding in recent years. And while no action on FY 2013 spending is expected until after election day, the results will go far to answering how much the budgets of NIH and other agencies will tighten going forward.

Alex Philippidis is senior news editor at Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News.

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