March 28, 2012 - National Institutes of Health - FY 2013 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is pleased to submit the following statement on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 appropriation for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  The ASM is the largest single life science organization in the world with more than 38,000 members.  Biomedical research supported by the NIH is critical to overcoming threats to public health, to building tomorrow’s scientific workforce, and to stimulating economic sectors tied to health care and the biomedical sciences. 

The ASM is very concerned that the Administration’s proposed request for NIH of $30.7 billion in discretionary budget authority is the same level of funding enacted for FY 2012. The flat funding level does not take into account the annual inflation rate for biomedical research and development, projected to be about 3 percent for FY 2013. While we understand the need to constrain federal spending, we are also concerned that NIH funded research has received less favorable attention than other science budget requests for FY 2013. At a time when greater, not less, federal investment is need in biomedical research opportunities, the NIH budget is flat lined and the proposed budget represents a cut in inflation adjusted dollars. In fact, over the past 10 years the NIH budget has not kept pace with biomedical inflation and has suffered a 20 percent loss in purchasing power.    

In FY 2013, about 83 percent of the NIH budget will support extramural research by more than 325,000 professionals working at more than 3,000 facilities, including universities, hospitals, medical schools, and research centers.  Nearly 35,900 research project grants (RPGs) will be funded, including about 9,400 new and competing grants.  Under the proposed funding, RPG funding would decline by 0.2 percent compared to the previous year.   The success rate of applicants for available RPGs has declined significantly.  In FY 2012, only 17.7 percent of the nearly 49,600 applications were funded.  The proposed NIH budget calls for reductions in the budgets of research project grants which lowers the average costs and the growth of funding for research costs. Even with the budgetary adjustments, the success rate for applicants is still projected to be below 20 percent.

In addition to the concern over the frozen funding level proposed for NIH, we understand that a further reduction of about 8 percent may occur in January, 2013 if Congress does not act on an alternative budget plan under the Budget Control Act enacted in 2011 which calls for a cut of $1.2 trillion in federal spending over the next decade.  These cuts will be devastating to biomedical research progress, to the nation’s health and to the United States economy which is enormously impacted by the biomedical sciences.

The ASM respectfully requests that the NIH be recognized as a national priority and urge Congress to appropriate no less than $32 billion in funding in FY 2013 for NIH.  This funding recommendation represents the minimum investment necessary to avoid loss of promising research and allows the NIH budget to keep pace with biomedical inflation.

NIH Funding Invests in Innovation, Trains the Future Workforce

In FY 2013, NIH will invest in basic research, accelerating discovery through technology, advancing translational sciences, and encouraging new investigators and new ideas.   About 54 percent of the FY 2013 budget will be spent on basic research, reinforcing the role of NIH as our nation’s primary source of funding for the basic biomedical sciences.  Discovery through technology is central to biomedical research, and NIH is a world leader in advanced gene sequencing and computing technologies responsible for multiple scientific breakthroughs in recent years.  NIH programs are translating fundamental knowledge into clinical applications, helping to revitalize the shrinking R&D pipeline of new antimicrobial therapeutics and redesigning clinical trials to expedite highly sought products like a universal flu vaccine. 

The average age of principal investigators receiving NIH grants has risen steadily over the past three decades, while the numbers of NIH supported graduate students and postdoctoral students have stagnated.  Greater numbers of young professionals in science, medicine, and other technical fields must be recruited, trained, and financially supported.  Since 2005, the number of NRSA applications has generally declined, and fewer than half of NRSA applicants were awarded funding in FY 2011, trends that must be reversed.    We commend the recent creation of a new division within the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) devoted to training and workforce development.   Adequate funding for NIH training programs must be provided every year to guarantee sufficient numbers of trained research personnel into the future.  

Economic Benefits of Public Investments in Biomedical Research

The economic impact of NIH supported research is a persuasive argument for increased funding.  A 2011 report commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges, for example, stated that for every dollar invested in research at medical schools and teaching hospitals, $2.60 of “economic activity” occurs.   A recent study by United for Medical Research found that in 2011 NIH resources supported about 432,000 jobs and produced $62 billion in economic activity.  NIH is a major founding partner in the nation’s R&D fueled by genetics research. In 2010, human genome sequencing project associated activity generated $67 billion to the US (Batelle).

Investing in NIH has returned decades of discoveries in biomedicine, computer sciences, cutting edge technologies, and basic scientific knowledge.  Each year, NIH funding enables research advances in microbiology that protect public health, particularly through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Institute of General Medical Sciences.  NIAID supports basic and applied research on infectious and immune system diseases to better diagnose, prevent, and treat illnesses that constantly challenge our health and well-being. By focusing on basic research, NIGMS scientists and grantees make unique contributions to the science of microbiology. The ASM is concerned that the flat NIH budget request also applies to these key areas of research against threats like infectious diseases and drug resistant pathogens.  The FY 2013 budget request for NIAID is a disappointing increase over the previous year:  $4.495 billion, or $10 million above FY 2012.  The NIGMS request is about $2.379 billion, 2 percent under the FY 2012 enacted level. 

NIH Funding Protects Against Infectious Diseases

Despite major biomedical advances, infectious diseases remain among the most serious public health threats in the United States and worldwide.  NIH supports studies of these diseases, as well as innovative approaches to diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.  The NIH has relentlessly pursued HIV/AIDS through a broad portfolio of basic, applied, and translational research with increasing success, making the goal of an “AIDS free generation” seem a real possibility.   Resources are needed to continue aggressive development of new antiretroviral therapeutics, vaccines and prevention measures.

Vaccines have stopped global killers like smallpox, but for many infectious diseases effective immunization is not available.  Vaccine development is complicated and expensive, a long process from basic research to extensive clinical trials to large batch production.  The NIH provides resources for vaccine research that might not be attempted otherwise.  Every year, there are compelling results from NIH studies, including the following recent examples:

  • Two doses of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine are as effective as the current three dose regimen, significant because most new cases and deaths tied to HPV associated cervical cancer occur in low resource countries.  Worldwide, there are about 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed and approximately 250,000 women die, a result of persistent HPV infection.
  • An experimental vaccine tested in laboratory animals has successfully treated and prevented trachoma, the world’s leading cause of infectious blindness for which there is no current vaccine.   Worldwide, an estimated 1.3 million people are blind from trachoma, another 1.8 million have low vision, and 40 million have active infections.
  • NIAID has begun enrolling participants in an early stage clinical trial of a malaria vaccine (PfSPZ) to test the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, one of several malaria vaccines under study in NIH funded projects.  Nearly half of the world’s population lives in areas threatened by malaria, and there are an estimated 500 million new cases of clinical malaria annually.
  • A vaccine of genetically modified bacteria related to the tuberculosis pathogen protects mice against infection more effectively than the currently used BCG vaccine.  Another new vaccine candidate using a stress protein from the TB bacterium also appears superior to BCG.  TB kills 1.7 million people worldwide and the pathogen is becoming increasingly drug resistant.
  • A new class of vaccines, recombinant attenuated salmonella vaccines (RASV), shows promise for innovative development strategies.  Laboratory weakened forms of Salmonella bacteria act as carriers for antigens derived other microbial pathogens like Streptococcus pneumoniae; initial results indicate good protection with fewer side effects than vaccines currently available.

One of the great challenges now facing public health is the emergence of microbial pathogens resistant to commonly used antibiotics.  These antimicrobial resistant (AR) pathogens are alarming public health officials within all levels of government and have attracted researchers focused on finding ways to mitigate the cost of AR infection.  NIAID and NIGMS fund studies on the biological mechanisms of resistance and the discovery of much needed new therapeutics. Last October, NIAID awarded R&D contracts to companies for development of broad-spectrum therapeutics that can be used against classes of pathogens rather than individual pathogens.  

The NIH is funding the Human Microbiome Project which uses both metagenomic and traditional DNA sequencing techniques to study all of the microbial communities that normally live in the human body (the “microbiome”) and how these communities are affected by environmental factors like antibiotic exposure. Research is unraveling the roles of microbes in human health and disease, while developing new bioinformatic tools and reference databases with vast potential applications. 

Increased NIH Funding is Needed

During the budgetary process for FY 2013, we urge Congress to weigh the invaluable NIH contributions to the nation’s leadership in biomedicine and its technology driven economic excellence. NIH plays a critical role in job creation, economic growth and improving the lives of people. We recommend that Congress reverse the flat funding trend for the NIH and provide at least $32 billion, a 4.5 percent increase, for the NIH in FY 2013 to improve the nation’s health through medical breakthroughs and to maintain international leadership in science and biomedical research.  US leadership in science is not assured and robust investment in NIH is vital to compete with China and other countries.  

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.