President Proposes Slightly Larger Budget for NIH; Focus on New Research

WASHINGTON—The President’s proposed budget for FY 2012 includes no deep cuts in HHS agencies, and even includes a small increase for NIH research. But that increase is tiny in comparison to the boost in research dollars that was provided through the Recovery Act during the last two years—$10.2 billion overall. With that two-year jumpstart coming to an end, federal health leaders say they feel that any decrease or plateau in research funding would constitute a significant setback.

“To make sure America continues to lead in innovation, our budget includes an increase in funding for NIH,” Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee during last month’s budget hearing. “New frontiers of research in cell- based therapies and genomics promise to unlock transformative treatments and cures, from diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to cancer to autism. Our budget will allow the world’s leading scientists to continue to pursue discoveries while keeping America at the forefront of biomedical research.”

NIH would receive $31.8 billion in the proposed budget—up from $30 billion in FY 2011. According to the agency, this budget would support 9,158 new research project grants (RPG), with the total number of RPGs expected to be nearly 37,000. The average cost of each will be $433,000. Of the total budget, $16.9 billion would go toward RPGs—up from $16.3 billion in 2011.

“The NIH budget had a dramatic increase in funding, thanks to the Recovery Act,” Sebelius told legislators. “Fueling that scientific investment was a major innovation effort for the United States. They are already struggling with [the fact that] the grant funding is coming to an end. It will have a very chilling impact on research grants across the country if the NIH research budget is not adequately funded in 2012.”

One of the new projects expected to be funded with the additional money is the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), which NIH plans to launch in October. NCATS will help align a number of cross-Institute programs to help catalyze development, spur new public-private partnerships, and facilitate the regulatory review process through collaboration with FDA. For example, one component of NCATS would be the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN)—an initiative to accelerate the development of “high need” cures for diseases—for which $100 million is requested in the proposed budget.

The President’s proposal is the first of many steps in the budget process. Next, congressional budget committees will pass resolutions that set caps on spending. After that, appropriations committees in the House and Senate decide how to allocate discretionary spending, passing 12 appropriations bills—usually bundled into a large omnibus bill—in each chamber. The House and Senate then work to resolve differences between the two bills, hopefully before the fiscal year begins on October 1, 2011.

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