Continuing Resolution Funds Zika, But Not Cancer or Biden’s Moonshot

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A continuing resolution passed Congress passed Sept. 28 will avoid a government shutdown and fund federal agencies through Dec. 9.

This legislation comes two days before the government’s current funding was due to expire, at midnight Sept. 30. This would have closed all nonessential parts of the government, including NIH.

The legislation passed after an amendment was added to address the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, resolving the weeks-long debate between House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The House version of the continuing appropriations bill was passed by the Senate, 72-26, and hours later by the House, 384-85. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it before Sept. 30.

Shortly after Congress passed the CR, the White House released a statement of administration policy, expressing support for the bill and urging Congress to act quickly to enact full-year appropriations legislation for the remainder of FY17.

The continuing resolution means that NIH and NCI will not see funding increases until at least December, when the FY17 regular appropriations bill is passed.

Funding levels will continue at FY16 levels, which allocated $31.3 billion to NIH and $5.1 billion to NCI.

“Any time there is uncertainty, it forces NIH and NCI leadership to delay funding decisions and awards that are made in the next couple months and even those renewed may be renewed or funded at a lower level,” David Pugach, director of federal relations for American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said to The Cancer Letter. “And if everything happens with FY17 as expected, that funding will ultimately be restored, but even a short-term CR has implications. It’s uncertainty and delayed funding decisions. When you look at it from the perspective of patients and their loved ones, progress is urgent. And that progress gets slowed down a bit.”

At NIH, the continuing resolution gives an additional $152 million to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for emergency funding of “research on the virology, natural history, and pathogenesis of the Zika virus infection and preclinical and clinical development of vaccines and other medical countermeasures for the Zika virus and other vector-borne diseases.”

“The stopgap spending bill is a crucial step towards completing work on federal spending bills this year rather than passing the buck to the next Congress,” said Mary Woolley, Research!America president and CEO, in a statement Sept. 29. “Major health threats like Zika require an immediate and robust response to prevent the spread of a virus that is endangering pregnant women and children, and society at large. Adequate federal funding will help speed the development of a vaccine and provide more resources to states to protect citizens.

“Many other initiatives underway to prevent and halt the progression of deadly diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer need sufficient federal support in the FY17 budget.”

Pugach said that ACS CAN’s focus is now on the lame duck Congress, pushing them to complete their work on appropriations for FY17 and to finalize the 21st Century Cures Act.

“I think the continuing resolution is a good step forward,” said Pugach, also president of United for Medical Research. “The fact that the CR was passed in a bipartisan way–it’s a sign they will be able to complete their work when they come back.”

Vice President Joe Biden’s Moonshot Initiative is another priority for advocacy groups, said Pugach. The moonshot is not funded under the continuing resolution, nor is it included in the House and Senate appropriations bills (The Cancer Letter, Sept. 23).

The Senate proposed full-year appropriations for FY17 slated an increase of $2 billion for NIH—matching last year’s increase—which would boost the NIH budget to $33.3 billion in FY17. The bill provides $5.43 billion for NCI, $216 million above the FY16 level.

The House version of the regular appropriations bill gives NIH a $1.25 billion increase, with NCI receiving a 2.4 percent increase in funding to about $5.34 billion, falling short of the 13 percent increase proposed by the White House.

Legislators will cast their next roll calls during the lame-duck session in November.


President Joe Biden’s proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health would be a welcome partner to NCI—particularly in conducting large, collaborative clinical investigations, NCI Director Ned Sharpless said.“I think having ARPA-H as part of the NIH is good for the NCI,” Sharpless said April 11 in his remarks at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. “How this would fit with the ongoing efforts in cancer at the NCI is still something to work out.”
Tessa Vellek