LHHS subcommittee shows support for NIH during HHS appropriations hearing

by Tanner Godfrey

The Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies met to discuss the 2018 budget recommendations and to question Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. The President’s FY2018 budget proposes deep cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Medicare and Medicaid. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who chaired the session, opened by stating that he is committed to not cutting the NIH budget and won’t draft a bill for that cut. Price defended the President’s budget, stating that this was an effort to focus spending on programs that work.

Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois responded by asking, “Do I take it from that that you and the President have concluded that our medical research programs at the NIH have failed the American people?”

Secretary Price attempted to explain that they plan to fund the same number of grants and dollar amount per grant by cutting indirect costs, also called facilities & administration costs, or F&A for short.

This approach, however, also is threatening to scientific research. When a grant is awarded, 67-75% of the grant goes directly to the researcher for the cost of the research (supplies, equipment, salaries, students, etc.). The remaining amount goes to cover the research infrastructure and operating costs (laboratories, waste disposal, patient and animal safety, maintenance, administrative staff, etc.)

A statement from the Association of American Universities on indirect costs said:

Cuts to F&A research costs are cuts to research. If such cuts are made, they will reduce the amount of research universities and their scientists can conduct on behalf of the federal government to achieve key national goals to improve the health and welfare of the American people, grow the economy, and enhance our national security.

Furthermore, according to the congressional justification, NIH predicts with this proposed budget the grant success rate will drop to 13.7%, 1,648 fewer grants will be awarded, and less money will awarded with each grant as well.

The senators present were overwhelmingly supportive of NIH and appeared to be very reluctant to proceed with the President’s budget request. Senator Durbin emphasized, “This chairman along with the ranking member, and I might add Senator [Lamar] Alexander to this combination, have really staked out a grounds in the last two fiscal years that I think is the right path for America. 5% real growth in medical research funding across America, I am ready to debate that in any district, in any state in America; that is money well spent!”

House appropriations committee inquires about proposed NSF cuts

By Tanner Godfrey

The House Committee on Appropriations Science Subcommittee met to discuss the FY18 National Science Foundation (NSF) budget with Director Dr. France A. Córdova as a witness. Dr. Córdova spoke of the advances through NSF funded research touching on topics such as driverless cars, artificial intelligence to predict septic shock, 3D printing organs, and the detection of gravitational waves. The FY18 budget proposes an 11% cut in funding to NSF, the first cut in the organization’s history. If passed, this cut would directly affect the number of new grants awarded by a similar margin. Furthermore, the committee expressed concern for the impacts of decreased funding for cyber security, STEM education and diversity in science.  The representatives present were very supportive of NSF and requested that scientific community speak to their representatives and senators to encourage them to support funding for science. The full video of the hearing as well as Dr. Córdova’s testimony can be found here.

NIH reverses decision on grant cap; creates fund for young investigators

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reversed its decision to cap the number of grants that an investigator can receive after pointed opposition from some members of the scientific community and Advisory Committee to the Director. The NIH will instead create a pool of money reserved for early career investigators and mid-career investigators in danger of leaving the research workforce due to lack of funding or who are seeking their second award.

Initially, the NIH created a grant support index (GSI) that assigned a value to each type of research project grant. Under the initial plan, the NIH would essentially limit the number of grants any investigator could hold at once to the equivalent of three single-principle investigator R01s. The NIH estimated that this would create 1,600 new awards that could be more broadly shared among the research workforce. The plan was based on data that showed diminishing returns in productivity after an investigator received a certain number of grants and data that showed the difficulty early and mid-career investigators had in obtaining funding.

The GSI received positive feedback from many members of the scientific community, such as from Future of Research. However, negative feedback to the plan, prompted NIH officials to scrap the GSI and replace it with the Next Generation Research Initiative (NGRI). This new plan will reserve $210 million this year for early and mid-career investigators with the goal of increasing this fund to $1.1 billion dollars per year over 5 years if the budget allows.

The NGRI was announced at the latest meeting of the Advisory Committee to the Director. The NIH is accepting feedback through NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, Dr. Mike Lauer’s, blog or at publicinput@od.nih.gov. Information about the new research initiative will be communicated through the NGRI website.

AADR will continue to track developments with this initiative. Please contact Science Policy Analyst, Dr. Seun Ajiboye, at sajiboye@iadr.org with any questions, concerns and feedback.

Collins reappointed as NIH Director

The Trump administration has announced that Dr. Francis Collins will be reappointed as Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Collins was originally appointed NIH Director by the Obama administration in 2009, having worked on former President Obama’s transition team.

At the end of each administration, political appointees turn in resignation letters to allow the incoming administration to select new personnel. Dr. Collins expected to finish his tenure with the Obama administration but indicated that he wanted to continue as the Director under Trump. Dr. Collins continued to serve on a temporary basis after President Trump took office until a permanent replacement could be named. However, Dr. Collins enjoyed broad support from the research community as well as members of Congress. In an unprecedented step, Republican leaders sent a letter to  President Trump urging him to reappoint Dr. Collins as the head of the NIH. President Trump met with Dr. Collins on many occasions both before and after the President’s inauguration, but Dr. Collins’ future at NIH was unclear until now.

AADR congratulates Dr. Collins on his reappointment and looks forward to continuing to work with the Director and the NIH to support and advance biomedical research.