Fortunately, the robust levels of budgetary support for NIH over the past 5 years have produced medical and technological advances that serve public health as well as the defense of the nation and the world. These significant benefits for humankind include discovery of the mechanisms by which anthrax toxin destroys cells, which will speed development of anthrax therapies; the finding that available doses of licensed smallpox vaccine can be "stretched" by dilution to provide protection for more people; collaborative efforts to develop a new and safer smallpox vaccine; and new anthrax vaccine candidates that will soon enter clinical trials. NIH has also been responsible for a number of improved HIV/AIDS treatments, vaccines against Haemophilus influenza type b, pneumococcal disease and hepatitis A and B, potential vaccines against the West Nile and Ebola viruses, and genomic sequencing of more than 60 medically important microbes, including the bacteria that cause tuberculosis. However, significant health challenges remain for the 21st century to find treatments and preventions for microbial threats worldwide.
Furthermore, the threat of bioterrorism is presenting new challenges and demands for rapid diagnosis, prevention, and containment of biothreat agents. "We are looking to the NIH to accelerate discovery and development of knowledge and products that will rapidly increase countermeasures to control biothreat agents and to enhance the capability to do research on these agents," according to Dr. Gail Cassell, chair of ASM's Public and Scientific Affairs Board. Studies of highly infectious microbes and the development of protective strategies require a long-term commitment and increased funding.
As President Bush noted in proposing the Project BioShield initiative, one of the program's goals is to enhance NIH's ability to speed research and development on medical countermeasures. "This initiative is an opportunity to synergize our public and private research efforts based on the most promising scientific discoveries," Cassell said, "and is it critical that NIH be funded at a level that can catalyze our national efforts to deal effectively with bioterrorism."
"At the same time, NIH plays a pivotal role in our research efforts to combat old and new infectious diseases that undermine health and well-being and cost this country more than $120 billion annually," she said. "The multiple threats of emerging, re-emerging, and drug-resistant infections mandate that we accelerate the pace of biomedical research."
The ASM supports a 10 percent increase in the FY 2004 budget for the NIH to bring the level of funding to $30 billion. The Administration's proposed funding level of only 2 percent is highly inadequate and will decrease and slow progress in many areas of biomedical research. The proposed 10 percent increase for the NIH budget will improve its ability to capitalize on the substantial achievements of the past few years and enhance its ability to seize scientific opportunities to advance both national health and national security, Cassell said.
# # #