Senate Subcommittee Hears Testimony on NIH Budget - Success Rates to Drop

May 16, 2011

NIH Director Francis Collins appeared before the U.S. Senate Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Subcommittee last week to discuss the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request for NIH. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Subcommittee, opened the hearing by commenting on NIH’s status as a world leader in biomedical research and lamenting that the nation’s lack of continued investment has threatened NIH’s status.

"While China and other Asian countries make large investments in research, here in the United States, we’re pulling back. The fiscal year 2011 appropriations bill that Congress passed last month cut NIH funding by $322 million below the fiscal year 2010 level. When you consider how much funding was needed to keep up with inflation, the cut was more like $1.3 billion." Harkin said.

Harkin noted that the final fiscal year 2011 appropriation for NIH will result in a success rate of around 17 percent or one in six peer-reviewed grants being funded. "And there is cause to fear even bigger cuts next year. The budget plan approved by the House last month would cut health funding by 9 percent in fiscal year 2012," he added.

In his testimony, Collins highlighted the importance of NIH’s role in advancing the discipline of translational science through the proposed establishment of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, voiced his support for federal investment in basic biomedical research and development, but questioned whether NCATS was the "right approach" to translating advances in scientific discoveries into products for the marketplace.

"It is May 11th, and we have not received a budget amendment or specific structural details on NCATS – a program NIH wants to implement by October 1st," Shelby stated. "…NCATS is a matter we should contemplate, but we must ensure that the steps forward are measured and in the best interests of all stakeholders, especially those who are in need of treatment and care."

In his testimony, Collins described NIH’s role in spurring economic growth through job creation and as a foundation for medical innovation, while also reducing the costs associated with diseases such as diabetes. Collins also emphasized that "at NIH, we have always put our greatest percentage of our resources into basic research," historically, more than 50 percent of the NIH budget. Collins added: "Because we simply cannot predict the next scientific revelation or anticipate the next opportunity, our basic research portfolio must be diverse."

Read Collins' written testimony [PDF] »

Watch video of Senate hearing »