Moving Ahead with the Stimulus Funds
With President Barack Obama’s signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) on February 17, 2009, came newfound hope in many circles that our economy can start down the road to recovery. As the President himself has said, it will not be easy. This recovery package is just the first step and, undoubtedly, just one of many interventions.
The economic stimulus package presents a tremendous opportunity for the biomedical research establishment. Under the new law, NIH will receive approximately $10.4 billion for use in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, $8.2 billion of which is specifically tagged for research.
Of that $8.2 billion, approximately $1.26 billion will go to NCI. The total funding for cancer research could increase if NCI grantees successfully compete for “challenge grants,” comparative effectiveness research monies, and other infrastructure funds administered by the NIH Office of the Director and the National Center for Research Resources. I believe this sizable figure is a profound affirmation from President Obama and the American people of the importance of tackling the cancer burden and a sign of their confidence that we are well suited to meet that challenge. As you are well aware, I continually remind our leaders in the executive and legislative bodies of our government that an investment in cancer research, whether in basic scientific discovery or behavioral studies of populations, is an investment in a model for gaining an understanding of all diseases.
As I wrote recently, an investment in research does more than just create new scientific knowledge and advances in clinical medicine. That investment also translates into support for research projects at institutions large and small across the country, and those projects in turn create jobs and a plethora of new business opportunities by generating patents, products, and biotechnology start-up companies. In fact, on average, a single NIH research grant supports seven jobs. And according to one analysis, for every $1.00 spent on research in a given community, $2.25 in local economic activity is generated.
The White House is requiring an unprecedented, but certainly appropriate, level of transparency and accountability with regard to how ARRA funds are used. These funds will be kept separate from our general operating budget secured via the standard appropriations process.
To help achieve this transparency, new NCI reporting mechanisms are being developed for the grantees and institutions that receive funds from the stimulus package. These 2-year awards will be supported via three primary mechanisms:
- Already reviewed, highly meritorious R01 applications that make scientific sense to fund for only 2 years, as well as new R01 applications that have a reasonable expectation of making progress in 2 years
- Administrative and competitive supplements to current grants
- Challenge grants, which are intended to provide jumpstart funds for projects that address defined health and science challenges, and where it is believed reasonable
progress is feasible in a 2-year time frame
NCI’s leadership is working under an accelerated timetable to create a spending plan that meets the stimulus package goals, while striking an all-important balance between increases in the number of grants for individual investigators, where there are long-term financial obligations, and a greater commitment to solicited, team-science projects—such as IT-related efforts like caBIG, BIG Health, and efforts related to the development of electronic medical records.
We will widely report—via the NCI Web site, the NCI Cancer Bulletin, teleconferences, professional meetings, and other avenues—on the research opportunities created by these funds, the specific projects they support, the scientific knowledge and advances they generate, and the number of jobs they provide. NCI is committed to ensuring that the cancer community and general public can easily trace the return on this unprecedented investment.
The bottom line is this: NIH and NCI leadership are prepared to do our part toward the economic recovery of this great country by quickly distributing stimulus funds via a science- and merit-driven process and, in so doing, supporting not just new science but crafting new approaches that alter the course of cancer while preserving and creating jobs.
It’s rewarding to witness members of Congress—particularly Senator Arlen Specter, who championed the need for these funds—and the President’s confidence in the potency of biomedical research in the recovery process. Many in the cancer community toil behind the scenes, in basic research laboratories, community clinics, and the offices of advocacy organizations. But we are all committed to reducing the cancer burden, and this influx of funds recognizes the remarkable work we have done and the important achievements the American people believe we can accomplish.
Indeed, during the signing ceremony last Tuesday, while talking about the support for scientific research in the stimulus package, President Obama said that he hoped “this investment will ignite our imagination once more, spurring new discoveries and breakthroughs.” I am confident that we as a community have the people and strategies in place to live up to that hope, to achieve important progress that will better the lives of millions in the process.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber
Director, National Cancer Institute