publication date: Sep. 18, 2015

Advocates Seek 7% Boost for Medical Research Funding

By Matthew Bin Han Ong

NIH, NCI and FDA should receive budget increases of at least 7 percent a year, the 2015 Cancer Progress Report by the American Association for Cancer Research recommends.

The NCI Bypass Budget for 2017, published almost simultaneously with the AACR report, requests a series of annual 7-percent increases for NCI, which over a decade would double the institute’s budget (The Cancer Letter, Sept. 18).

The institute and the advocates are making nearly identical requests at a time when the outlook for NCI funding is showing signs of improvement.

• President Barack Obama has proposed a $1 billion increase, the House has proposed a $1.1 billion increase, and the Senate has proposed a $2.2 billion increase.

• If a budget deal raises the caps, NIH would stand receive to receive the largest annual appropriations increase in many years, Capitol Hill insiders say.

• In the 21st Century Cures bill, the House approved an $8.75 billion boost for NIH in mandatory funding over five years through the creation of a new “Innovation Fund.” Also, the bill authorized increased funding levels (through the annual appropriations process) for the NIH by $1.5 billion per-year for the next three fiscal years.

NIH has lost nearly 25 percent of its funding since 2003 due to flat budgets and biomedical inflation. As a result, fewer competitive research grants have been awarded, which advocates argue is slowing progress in biomedical research and discouraging young scientists from pursuing a career in research.

In addition to over a decade of flat funding, the Budget Control Act, enacted in March 2013, slashed funding for federal agencies, including NIH, NCI and FDA, by 5.1 percent.

AACR’s fifth annual report was released Sept. 16 in conjunction with this year’s Rally for Medical Research Hill Day—a two-day event where over 300 organizations across the country converge on Capitol Hill to advocate for sustained increases in funding for NIH. The association is the lead sponsor and founding organizer of the rally, now in its third year.

The US is losing scientists to other countries because of better opportunities abroad, said NIH Director Francis Collins at the rally Sept. 16.

“I was in Korea and China last week, and I met with some amazing scientists, some of which used to be here. They’re not here anymore,” Collins said at the Reception to Celebrate Medical Research at the Russell Senate Office Building. “There are better opportunities that lie in Asia, because as we have lost ground, other countries have been gaining their momentum.

“If we’re serious about doing things to stimulate our economy, the dollars that go into medical research are well documented as one of the best government investments we can make, because of all the spinoffs, all the small businesses, and jobs that get created. If we’re serious about American competitiveness, we should worry about this.

“Currently, as young scientists look at our situation, this is a particularly vulnerable time,” Collins said. “And we need to be able to give them the reassurance that we are in fact, serious about providing the kind of support, so that when they come to NIH with their best and brightest ideas, their chances won’t continue to be 1 in 6 of getting funded, which is what it currently is. We need to be better than that.

“Research can’t wait, there are many epidemics that can’t wait, cures can’t wait, hope can’t wait, we can’t wait, none of us can wait, and America cannot wait.”

 

Members of Congress: Increase Research Funding

Other speakers at the Sept. 16 reception included Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

“One of the goals I share with many of my colleagues, including Sen. Murray, is the idea that budget caps are damaging to the research that goes on at NIH, and they change dramatically the opportunity for the United States of America to be the leader in medical research and to develop an economy based on science, and medical research, and we will work to prioritize the spending that occurs at NIH,” Moran said at the event.

The life sciences sector in Washington—the fifth-largest sector in the state—employs 34,000 people, and is continuing to grow, Murray said.

“Maintaining our country’s central goal of life sciences as a very top priority and the federal investments in medical research are so critical to that effort,” Murray said. “I believe we need an agreement that builds on the bipartisan foundation. That was set at our budget deal last Congress, that protect priorities like research and education and our national security.”

Congress should be increasing investment to the NIH, not shrinking it, Klobuchar said.

“One of the issues here is the budget and making sure we continue to invest in NIH, I made that point when I gave my salary to the NIH during the government shutdown, but that’s one thing, the other is expanding and growing it,” Klobuchar said.

Devoting funds to biomedical research is an indispensable investment in America’s future, said Durbin.

“Here’s our challenge: there are a bunch of members of Congress who say they’re all for increasing federal investment for medical research, but we have to take the money from other places,” Durbin said. “Take it out of school lunches, take it out of federal subsidies to help families pay for health insurance, take it out of student loan guarantees.

“Well, I say there’s a better solution: lift the budget caps so America remains the world’s leader in biomedical research.”

Rally participants held a series of meetings with the House and Senate on Sept. 17 to advocate for predictable increases for NIH.

“The American Association for Cancer Research is thrilled that the Rally for Medical Research Hill Day has become such an important event for hundreds of organizations from all across the United States to come together and speak with one voice to Congress about the critical importance of medical research, and encourage Members of Congress support robust, sustainable, and predictable budget increases for the NIH,” said Jon Retzlaff, managing director of the AACR Office on Science Policy and Government Affairs. “The time to invest is now. Congress must develop a budget framework that supports stronger investments in the NIH for the long-term.”

Despite competing priorities on Capitol Hill, the momentum behind research is gaining strength, said Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley.

“At the Rally for Medical Research reception, the energy in the room was palpable, fueled by a sense of determination by Senators Durbin, Murray, Klobuchar and Moran to increase and sustain our national commitment to research,” Woolley said to The Cancer Letter. “Dr. Francis Collins fired up the advocates with his rousing and frank remarks: patients can’t wait, families can’t wait and research can’t wait.

“This is our moment; our year, and advocates are up to the challenge of assuring elected officials follow through.”

Alberto Busch contributed to this story.

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