Medical Researchers Thankful for $2 Billion NIH Funding Increase

Mara Lee, Modern Healthcare: May 1, 2017

Academic researchers and medical research advocates didn’t expect Congress to go along with the Trump plan to slash 20% of the National of Institutes of Health budget.

But Sunday’s news, that the agency would receive $2 billion in additional resources for the final five months of this fiscal year, was a delightful surprise.

“We didn’t expect a funding boost,” said Diana Zuckerman, an epidemiologist who’s director of the National Center for Health Research, a Washington think tank.

Dr. Stephen Desiderio, director of the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said he and his colleagues are so thankful to Congress for the appropriation. “This bodes well for fiscal year 2018,” he said. “That’s just fantastic.”

More than 80% of the NIH’s funding is awarded through almost 50,000 competitive grants to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions in every state and around the world.

Johns Hopkins is usually first or second in NIH awards, and has more than $430 million in research projects currently funded, including Desiderio’s own lab, which studies the development of immune systems.

Of 2,300 faculty members at Johns Hopkins medical school, about 1,500 are active in medical research. And while Johns Hopkins has benefited from some major philanthropy, it’s always NIH money that is by far the dominant source of salaries, supplies and equipment.

Overall, NIH’s funding has been eroded by inflation over the last decade, and as a result, grants have been harder and harder to win. Less than 20% of applications succeed.

At the National Cancer Institute, which will get nearly $476 million in additional funding this year, success rates were down to 8%, Desiderio said.

All areas of the NIH will increase, but cancer, Alzheimer’s, brain research and precision medicine were singled out for $100 million-plus earmarks.

He expects the agreement to have immediate effects, as NIH officials are currently making decisions on grant applications submitted in October. The February submissions will also be decided this fiscal year.

Zuckerman said it will be hard to push out $2 billion in five months, and if the NIH doesn’t obligate the money, it will have to be sent back.

“If you really want to make the most of medical funding, for NIH or for anybody else, it needs to be a steady stream of funds,” she said. “The problem is, what about next year? These are not one-year grants.” […]

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