Senate Appropriators Hold Hearing on President's 2012 Budget Request for NIH
NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins presented his vision for how investment in NIH could yield significant public health and economic benefits at a May 11 hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. He was joined by NCI Director Dr. Harold Varmus; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Director Dr. Griffin Rodgers; and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Acting Director Dr. Susan Shurin. Dr. Collins and the institute directors each submitted written testimony for the record. (A webcast of the hearing and the written testimonies are available online.)
In his remarks, Dr. Collins identified four areas in which recent progress is leading to new opportunities. Using The Cancer Genome Atlas as an example, he described how technological advances are making it possible for scientists “to understand the details of health and disease in breathtaking new ways.” He also discussed how NIH is using the latest science to improve health through disease prevention strategies, highlighting early successes of the Diabetes Prevention Program.
Dr. Collins then focused on NIH’s potential role in enhancing the economy and American competitiveness worldwide. He referenced a new economic impact study published by United for Medical Research, which estimates that NIH investments created 487,900 jobs in fiscal year (FY) 2010. “NIH will be a key engine driving the U.S. economy in the 21st century,” Dr. Collins said.
Finally, the director briefly outlined his plan for accelerating translational sciences through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), which was proposed in response to the need for a new approach to therapeutics development. Citing the “deluge of discoveries about the molecular basis of disease,” but also the lengthy development times and high failure rates associated with turning these advances into clinically relevant interventions, Dr. Collins described how be believes NCATS will ultimately help patients by creating a “new paradigm of translation.”
Subcommittee members in attendance voiced bipartisan support for investment in biomedical research. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the subcommittee chair, said, “NIH research is one of the best investments this country can make.” He expressed his concern that funding cuts for NIH in FY2011—and possible cuts in future years—will result in dramatically lower success rates for researchers seeking NIH support and will undermine American competitiveness in biomedical research.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) praised NIH and its employees for their public service, saying, “I wanted to be here today to say to all the people who work at the institute[s]—all the people who work at the various offices, from the lab techs, the security guards, the fire department—we are really proud of you.”
In addition to offering his support for federal investment in biomedical research, Ranking Member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) requested more information on NCATS, how the re-organization to create the center will affect NIH, and how the center’s budget will be determined. Dr. Collins advised the subcommittee that the only new budgetary consideration in the NCATS plan is associated with the Cures Acceleration Network, which is included in President Obama’s FY2012 budget request. Drs. Fauci and Varmus offered their perspectives on how NCATS will complement and enhance the robust translational research that occurs and will continue to occur across NIH’s institutes.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) concluded the hearing by asking for information to substantiate his understanding that money spent in biomedical research reduces health care costs. Dr. Collins acknowledged the complexity involved in such an economic analysis and provided examples of economic benefits resulting from research in heart disease and cancer. Dr. Collins told the subcommittee that each time the frequency of cancer decreases by 1 percent, something that is already happening each year, economists say that the resulting reduction in mortality saves Americans $500 billion. “The returns are enormous,” he said.
—Stacye Bruckbauer and Rachel Benkeser
For more information about NCI congressional activity, visit the NCI Office of Government and Congressional Relations Web site.