2009 Issues   /   November 2009

NIH Allocates $5 Billion to Medical Research With President Obama’s Support

By US Medicine

BETHESDA, MD—The National Institutes of Health kicked off the month of October by announcing that $5 billion in Recovery Act funds have been allocated to research in the form of about 12,000 grants. Funding is being channeled into research devoted to autism, cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease and other high priority areas. The $5 billion being dispersed is a portion of the total $10.4 billion that NIH will receive through the Act over the course of two years. That, in turn, is part of $100 billion included in the Recovery Act for investment in science and technology.

NIH Director Frances Collins, MD, PhD, made the announcement alongside President Obama before an auditorium of NIH scientists. Dr Collins stressed that the funding increase was not meant to simply bolster existing NIH research protocols, but to spur innovation and promote risk-taking. “This is not just about doubling the recipe. We’re investigating new programs with new tools and looking at old problems with entirely new perspectives,” Dr Collins explained. I don’t know where this research will lead. That’s the nature of science. But I am confident that millions of Americans alive today, and millions more in future generations will live longer healthier lives because of the grants we are announcing today.”

Of particular pride to Dr Collins are the 200 or so Challenge Grants that NIH is issuing to jump-start the most cutting-edge research. About $200 million will be allocated over a two-year period, to be divided among an expected 5,000 Challenge Grant applications. In fact, by the deadline last spring, they had received 20,000. “We recruited 15,000 reviewers and instructed them to aim high in identifying the most promising proposals,” Dr Collins declared.

President Obama, introduced to the audience by Dr Collins as the nation’s “scientist in chief,” declared his support for the advancement of science and medical knowledge. He defined this initiative as an absolute necessity in improving the nation’s physical and fiscal health, stating that NIH needs to be at the forefront of that advancement. The President also noted that the agency had seen dark times during the previous administration. “If we’re honest, in recent years we’ve seen our leadership slipping as scientific integrity was at times undermined and research funding failed to keep pace,” President Obama said. “We know the work you do would not get done if left solely to the private sector. Some research does not lend itself to quick profit.”

This research funding constitutes a historic commitment to scientific discovery that will hopefully mark a step toward overcoming some of the most pressing health challenges, including cancer, autism, HIV/AIDS, and heart disease. “Breakthroughs in medical research take far more than the occasional flash of brilliance, as important as that can be. Progress takes time; it takes hard work; and it can be unpredictable. It can require a willingness to take risks, and going down some blind alleys occasionally. Figuring out what doesn’t work is almost as important as figuring out what does. All of this needs the support of government,” President Obama concluded.

The President also took this opportunity to call attention to his efforts on national health reform and to address criticism that he is promoting government-run health care. He noted that similar accusations were leveled at President Franklin Roosevelt when he oversaw the creation of NIH 70 years ago. “While we have made great advances in medicine,” he said, “our debates have not always kept pace.”

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