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Biodefense, Global AIDS Research Get Boosts
Budget Request for 2004 Reflects Post-Doubling Priorities

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On the same day he visited NIH to launch Project Bioshield (see Feb. 18 NIH Record story), President George W. Bush on Feb. 3 sent his budget request for fiscal year 2004 to Congress. Following 5 years of double-digit growth that fulfilled Congress's 1998 promise to double the NIH budget by 2003, NIH is now requesting $27,893 million — an increase of $549 million or 2 percent — in FY 2004.

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"Excluding bioterrorism and one-time infrastructure, the research portions of the budget grow by 4.3 percent," said Don Poppke, NIH acting budget director.

Among administration priorities emphasized in the new funding proposal is the HHS/NIH commitment to protect the nation's citizenry from biological and chemical terrorism.

The FY 2004 budget proposal allows NIH to award 10,509 competing research project grants — an increase of 344 competing RPGs over FY 2003 — and will fully fund 322 competing grants.

Priorities Pegged

Funding for biodefense research in 2004 more than doubles (+117 percent) the amount allotted in 2003. In the next fiscal year, NIH looks to receive $1,625 million for research on combatting various terrorist threats. NIH is requesting 125 more FTEs to support biodefense research activities and provide for management of the biodefense research program. NIH will coordinate activities in this area with both the newly established Department of Homeland Security and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

NIH has a plan to apply proposed increases to several critical areas already identified, notably three outlined below:

  • Expansion of basic research, including the addition of four Regional Centers of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases to provide and maintain the research and development capacity needed for identifying and responding to emerging diseases and bioterrorism events;
  • Expansion of the number of candidate drugs and vaccines under research using FDA's "animal model rule," the principal approach to showing scientific "proof of concept" for a candidate drug or vaccine that is under development as a countermeasure to a potential agent of bioterrorism;
  • Expansion of clinical research projects to support phase I and II clinical trials of candidate vaccines/drugs, including a next-generation smallpox vaccine, a plague vaccine and an Ebola vaccine.

In another budget item mentioned during his visit to campus, the President requested a boost for AIDS research funding to $2,870 million, an increase of $110 million.

Clear Paths to Progress

Key to tackling the wide array of new challenges facing the agency is the NIH Roadmap, an ongoing strategic plan developed by NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni in consultation with dozens of scientists asked to brainstorm about future directions. Soon after arriving at NIH last spring, Zerhouni launched an agency-wide effort to identify critical roadblocks and knowledge gaps that limit advances in biomedical research progress.

The resulting guide, or Roadmap, consists of three broad initiatives: New Pathways to Discovery, which include new approaches and enabling technologies such as a comprehensive parts list for biology, pathways and networks in health and disease, regenerative medicine, structural biology, molecular libraries, nanotechnology, computational biology and bioinformatics and molecular imaging; Multidisciplinary Research Teams of the Future, which will expand traditional models of conducting research to incorporate more and greater collaborative efforts among scientists, labs, ICs, organizations and networks, and examine ways to enhance synergism both inside and outside the agency's federal environment; and Re-engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise, which will allow NIH to rethink technical and human infrastructure requirements to translate findings from genetics and proteomics into front-line treatments used by health professionals on patients.

The FY 2004 budget request for the Office of the Director includes an increase of $35 million for these initiatives; Roadmap funds will be allocated by the NIH director to institutes and centers for solutions to reach specific goals.

Other Budget Highlights

Addressing what have been widely recognized as two of the nation's fastest growing health problems, the 2004 request includes a new $14 million effort as part of expanded trans-NIH research programs in diabetes and in obesity, a national epidemic that threatens the country's health by sharply increasing the incidence of type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, kidney failure, cardiovascular and other diseases.

The budget proposal also maintains NIH's commitment to priming the biomedical research talent pipeline for the future. Stipend levels for the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award trainees will increase by 4 percent over FY 2003 levels for predoctoral fellows, and decrease from 4 percent to 2 percent, based on years of experience, for postdoctoral fellows.

Also included in the 2004 request is an increase of $25 million — for a total of $210 million — for the Institutional Development Award program, a continuing effort to build a corps of competitive biomedical researchers in states that have not fully participated in NIH research funding in the past.

Saving and Consolidating

The 2004 budget also necessarily reflects belt-tightening measures. NIH will absorb a $109 million reduction in the information technology budget, incorporating savings from ongoing IT consolidation efforts that include project streamlining.

Other areas in the 2004 budget where spending will be trimmed reflect implementation of the President's Management Agenda and include $41 million in cost savings from consolidating administrative functions, organizational delayering, competitive sourcing via A-76 and adoption of other efficiencies in operations.

A more complete summary of the President's 2004 Budget for NIH can be accessed online at http://www.nih.gov/news/budgetfy2004/fy2004presidentsbudget.pdf.

As the Record went to press, the appropriations bill for FY 2003 — which began last Oct. 1 — had just been passed by Congress and was en route to the White House for the President's signature. "Under the '03 appropriations the doubling of NIH is essentially complete," Poppke concluded.


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