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Vol. LXIII, No. 14
July 08, 2011

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‘Historically Difficult Times.’
Budget Concerns Voiced at Director’s Advisory Committee

Difficult budget news for both the current and upcoming fiscal years cast a shadow over the 102nd meeting of the advisory committee to the NIH director (ACD) June 1-2.

“These are trying times…historically difficult times,” said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, who reported that NIH suffered a 1 percent budget cut in FY 2011, or $321 million, “which is more like 4.5 percent of our buying power.” He said it was only the second time since 1971 that NIH’s annual appropriation had been reduced. It was also the first time that across-the-board cuts were applied to NIH grants.

“The final numbers for FY 2012 are indeed sobering,” he continued, “and a deep source of concern.” Further complicating matters is that, for the first time anyone can recall, the House held no NIH appropriation hearing this spring. “That is sad, because we do have a story to tell,” said Collins.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins Dr. Shirley Tilghman Dr. Reed Tuckson
NIH director Dr. Francis Collins.

Dr. Shirley Tilghman, president of Princeton University, cochairs a working group on the biomedical workforce. Next to her is Dr. Thomas Kelly, director of the Sloan-Kettering Institute, who was attending his final ACD meeting. “Tom has been an incredibly important visionary and advisor to NIH,” said Collins. “Thanks for your tireless commitment to the NIH.” Dr. Reed Tuckson, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, United Health Group, said ACD members could be helpful to NIH by spreading a common message about NIH’s benefits not only to health, but also to the economy.

“This is a very uncertain time,” Collins added. “The FY 12 budget is tied up with what’s going on with the debt ceiling.” While the President’s request for NIH is expected to be a 3.5 percent increase for NIH, which would keep pace with inflation, Collins said it will be tough to get congressional approval. Current House budget tables call for a 12 percent reduction in the Labor, HHS, education appropriation, which would roll the agency’s budget back to the level of 2004.

The director of NIH’s Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis, Pat White, told the group that one-fifth of the House members are freshmen, some of whom are not at all familiar with NIH. White said NIH has begun an education effort to bring legislators up to speed about NIH’s benefits to the nation’s health, economy and global competitiveness. “It’s not possible to do too much” in this area, said Collins.

Normally a one-day meeting, the ACD was extended to a second half day due to a heavy agenda that included:

Pat White

Pat White, director of NIH’s Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis, talked about NIH’s relations with Capitol Hill.

Photos: Bill Branson

  • An update on the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) by Dr. Kathy Hudson, NIH deputy director for science, outreach and policy. She said NCATS would be an enabler, not a doer, of drug development and that the center will improve the processes of therapeutics development and implementation. The NCATS budget of $722 million went to the Hill on June 6; NIH’s goal is to inaugurate the center on Oct. 1. A search is now under way for a director, whose attributes were said to include “walking on water” and a passion to change the world.
  • Princeton University president Dr. Shirley Tilghman reported on the mission of the ACD biomedical workforce working group, which is examining the nation’s post-college training needs. “Even without the current budget crisis, we would have needed this study,” she said. “Growth in the biomedical research enterprise is not likely to happen.” She cautioned, “This is not a study to look at the pipeline for well-baby doctors. The emphasis is research.” The group will rely heavily on economic modeling and forecasting, she said.
  • NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak reported on the SUAA (substance use, abuse and addiction) task force, which is crafting the proposed merger of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The group has achieved a “placeholder” name—National Institute of Substance Abuse and Addiction Disorders—and is in the process of completing portfolio analysis and a scientific strategic plan. The name “SUAA,” Tabak said, “elicited universal negative response.”NIHRecord Icon

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