Biomedical Research Advocates Eye 2022 for NIH Funding Boost

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Biomedical Research Advocates Eye 2022 for NIH Funding Boost

By Jeannie Baumann 
• NIH to receive $42.9 billion in fiscal 2021
• $10 billion worth of research lost due to pandemic

Medical research funding advocates are already looking to a 2022 spending plan, as the NIH boost in Congress’s end-of-year stimulus deal likely won’t make up for lost research that cost the agency billions.

“Particularly in light of Covid-19, we’re going to need to catch up and build out in FY ’22,” Jenny Luray, vice president of strategy and communications for Research!America, said in an interview.

Congress provided $42.9 billion for the National Institutes of Health in fiscal 2021 as part of the $1.4 trillion spending plan passed by the Senate late Monday. The amount marks a $1.25 billion increase over 2020 spending on medical research.

While the NIH also received about $3.6 billion in supplemental funding across three coronavirus relief packages, the agency expects to lose about $10 billion worth of research due to the pandemic.

Biomedical research spending is a popular, bipartisan issue among lawmakers, and the bump in funding for 2021 was likely the best Congress could squeeze out of tight discretionary spending limits. It’s also the first time in five years the NIH got a funding boost that’s smaller than 5%.

The bill provides a 3% increase, which is just above the biomedical research inflation of 2.4% for fiscal 2021, Tannaz Rasouli, senior director of public policy and strategic outreach for the Association of American Medical Colleges and executive director of the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, wrote in an email.

“Of course, we’d love to see meaningful growth over inflation to allow for new research in the broad array of research areas that are important to patients and scientists,” Rasouli said. That growth is particularly important at the level of the NIH’s 27 institutes and centers, she said.

Supplemental Funding a Start
The year-end package includes an additional $1.25 billion in supplemental funding for the agency to study the long-term health effects of Covid-19 as well as for rapid diagnostics research. While Luray and Rasouli both applauded the funding, they noted more work lies ahead.

“We’re nowhere near done connecting the research needed to permanently end the pandemic,” Luray, whose pasts posts include retired Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and retiring House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.)—who were the first women to lead congressional appropriations committees.

Rasouli said she plans to work with the incoming Congress and White House on a more comprehensive package. “The need for research relief is still there!!”

Meanwhile, the head of the Senate Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee says they made a concerted effort to increase biomedical research funding.

The NIH’s appropriation increased 42.7% over the last six years, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the subcommittee, said in a statement.

“This year has reinforced the importance of a federal investment in the National Institutes of Health” Blunt said. “As we have faced a global health pandemic, NIH and its framework of 476,000 researchers across the country have been a critical part of our response efforts.”

Lawmakers are aiming to turn around an agency that experienced a 22% loss in real dollars after a five-year doubling from 1998 to 2003, followed by a dozen years of flat funding. NIH Director Francis S. Collins has said predictable increases provide a workforce stability for the scientific enterprise, instead of one-time funding spurts.

Even with the stable increase, the NIH’s 2020 appropriation was still 5% below the 2003 level in real dollars.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), top Democrat on the labor-HHS appropriations panel and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said in a statement that Congress must work on more relief funding.

“The task ahead is enormous and I won’t be letting up until it is complete,” she said.

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco