Friday, 24 February 2017 10:26

National Institutes of Health FY 2018 Appropriations Statement

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) urges Congress to continue its bipartisan support for biomedical research as it considers the FY 2018 budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). We join with the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research in recommending that Congress appropriate at least $2 billion above FY 2017 in addition to funds included in the 21st Century Cures Act.  This proposed level of NIH funding would help ensure that biomedical research continues to discover new cures, treatments and preventions for the infectious and chronic diseases causing human illness and death. Over the past decade, NIH has lost over 20 percent of its capacity to fund research because of budget cuts, sequestration and inflationary losses.

NIH supported scientific capabilities protect against health threats like infectious diseases and help safeguard our national security. Mobilization against the Zika virus, the national strategy against drug resistant pathogens, new understanding of the human microbiome, and the search for vaccines against Ebola, Zika, HIV and other pathogens are recent examples of the unique contributions of NIH research. The fact that previously unknown diseases continue to emerge and that old diseases like tuberculosis still persist is a convincing argument for preparedness against any and all health threats and a mandate for consistent federal support for NIH research.

Last year, it took months for the requested supplemental Zika funding to be approved by the Congress. It is critical that our federal health agencies can access additional resources immediately in the face of impending threats like emerging infectious disease. The ASM has previously recommended the establishment of a permanent federal fund dedicated to preparing for and responding to such threats. The proposed fund should contain at least $2 billion in new funding, be located at the Department of Health and Human Services, and be accessible to the NIH and multiple other federal agencies that protect public health and safety against unanticipated or large scale disease outbreaks.

Infectious diseases remain among the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in the United States and worldwide. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and the other NIH institutes and centers are leaders in cutting edge research areas like biosensors and genomics that protect our nation and benefit the American public. NIH institutes and centers contribute to national and global health initiatives like those to reduce antibiotic resistance among microbial pathogens, maintain defenses against bioterrorism, or eliminate infectious diseases like polio and malaria.

In recent months, NIH supported researchers reported advances that included promising results in a clinical study of a new malaria vaccine, the launch of clinical trials for vaccine candidates to prevent Zika virus infection, a “big data” analysis integrating digital information with traditional surveillance techniques to more quickly identify infectious disease outbreaks, and a new rapid assay to screen thousands of drugs that might be useful against pathogens resistant to multiple therapeutics.

Over 80 percent of NIH’s annual budget is spent outside its own laboratories, funding research and training in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In FY 2016, NIH helped support nearly 2,400 research organizations, including academic institutions, hospitals, and research institutes. NIH provides the majority of federal support for all university R&D efforts. NIH funding is invaluable in training scientists and other technical personnel, and it facilitates access to state of the art research tools like high throughput screening of candidate drug compounds and the CRISPR gene editing technique.

The ASM is concerned that the persistently low success rate for new and competing NIH research grants (< 20%) forced by budgetary constraints will slow future discovery and collaborations in science and technology. The shrinking industry pipeline of biomedical innovations has been an economic reversal in recent years, exemplified by a decline in discovery of novel therapeutics against increasingly drug resistant pathogenic microbes. U.S. healthcare expenditures (estimated >$2.5 trillion/year) make biomedical innovation even more urgent as potential solutions to human morbidity and mortality. It is crucial that NIH continues its ongoing partnerships with private industry, other federal agencies, and numerous public research institutions.

Arguments for increasing research funding in FY 2018 also include the slowing growth in U.S. biomedical R&D spending in relation to other key nations, as well as our declining global biomedical market share. As the world’s largest public source of biomedical funding, NIH programs contribute considerably to our nation’s global prominence in biomedicine and biotechnology. NIH funding shortfalls impinge efforts to not only protect public health but also stimulate the U.S. bioeconomy. NIH funding directly supports an estimated 400,000 plus jobs in the U.S. biomedical R&D enterprise. Agency appropriations also indirectly benefit millions employed in industries built upon NIH innovations, such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and suppliers of R&D technologies.  

The recommended NIH budget increase of $2 billion would strengthen the unparalleled NIH tradition of leveraging scientific discovery to improve public health and generate economic returns on federal support of biomedical research. The ASM appeals to Congress to continue its strong endorsement of biomedical innovation by steadily increasing the NIH budget for research and training programs. Science and technology are valuable investments in public health, biomedical advances, national security, and economic growth.

We appreciate this opportunity to submit a statement in support of biomedical research funding and offer our assistance to Congress during the budget process.