skip navigation nih record
Vol. LXVII, No. 9
April 24, 2015
cover

next story


‘Help NIH Be NIH’
Senators Visit, Double Down on Commitment to Biomedical Research

On the front page...

The two U.S. senators from Maryland may be on a mission—to prove once again that biomedical research has no better friends representing NIH in the nation’s upper law-making chamber. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), vice chair of the Senate appropriations committee, and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) both visited the agency in the same week, each pledging unwavering support—backed by sponsored legislation—for increased and stable funding for NIH.

Mikulski called for a 10 percent increase in NIH’s budget during a Mar. 31 visit to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences intramural research facility in Rockville.

Abundant backing. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (l) Sen. Ben Cardin (r) pledge additional support for NIH.
Abundant backing. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (l) and Sen. Ben Cardin (r) pledge additional support for NIH.

Continued...

After the 10 percent bump, NIH would receive a 6 percent increase for each subsequent year, which would take NIH’s budget to “$45 billion by 2021.” The proposal also includes a 3 percent pay increase for employees. She believes there is bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress for increasing biomedical research funding.

“I’m going to look to defend against threats to the American people here—what kills them, what cripples them or what impedes them in their ability to live a full life in a great country,” she said.

Mikulski came to the facility to learn “what I need to do to help NIH be NIH.”

She began her visit with a tour of the research facility and was accompanied by NIH director Dr. Francis Collins and NCATS director Dr. Christopher Austin. The building features a high-speed robotic screening system, which analyzes hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds—candidates for potential drug treatments—to ascertain their effects on disease targets.

During the tour, Austin said the system can analyze more compounds in a week than a person working “8 hours a day, 7 days a week for 12 years.”

Before Mikulski spoke, Collins announced that researchers have found a compound originally developed as a cancer therapy that could be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at Yale University gave the compound to mice with Alzheimer’s disease. After 4 weeks, the mice showed complete reversal of Alzheimer’s symptoms such as spatial learning impairments and memory loss.

Collins described the study as the “first published fruit” of the NCATS New Therapeutic Uses Program. Launched in 2012, the program matches chemical compounds already developed by pharmaceutical companies with academic investigators who have new insights into diseases.

Cardin takes audience questions at an Apr. 2 town hall meeting in Masur Auditorium. At NIH facilities in Rockville on Mar. 31, Mikulski gets a science and technology briefing from NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (l) and NHGRI director Dr. Christopher Austin.

Cardin takes audience questions at an Apr. 2 town hall meeting in Masur Auditorium.

 

At NIH facilities in Rockville on Mar. 31, Mikulski gets a science and technology briefing from NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (l) and NCATS director Dr. Christopher Austin.

Photos: Ernie Branson

“We don’t know if this is going to be the answer we’re hoping and dreaming for, but it comes out of this whole idea of repurposing compounds in which a lot of investment has already been made,” he said.

The Yale scientists already have completed a phase 1 clinical trial to determine its safety. Collins said scientists are now enrolling patients in a phase 2 clinical trial to learn more about the drug’s dosage, safety and effectiveness. Typically, it takes 10 years from the discovery of a promising compound to its readiness for clinical trials. The Yale scientists were able to do it in 18 months.

Mikulski said the breakthrough “could be as important as landing on the moon.”

Although she’s announced that she won’t be seeking a sixth term, the senior senator from Maryland promises to devote her remaining time in office to reducing the time it takes to translate promising research into medical advances.

“NIH is a world-class institution, serving as the foundation for U.S. medical innovation,” she concluded. “I’m fighting to ensure NIH remains a priority in the federal checkbook with the respect, resources and reform needed to support leading bioscience research jobs. I’m putting my shoulder to the wheel, my nose to the grindstone and my feet on the ground in my fight for NIH.”

Two days after Mikulski’s visit, her seatmate in Congress—Cardin—held his third town hall meeting with NIH’ers in Masur Auditorium.

“This is the finest institution in the world, in the world—you do it the best,” said Cardin, opening his remarks with an enthusiastic “thank you” to Collins and all NIH’ers for their public service and for the “global progress we’ve made in health.”

Mikulski visited different NIH facilities. She vowed to get more federal funding for biomedical research, which drives progress in science and health and boosts the economy. Cardin visited different NIH facilities. He vowed to get more federal funding for biomedical research, which drives progress in science and health and boosts the economy.
Mikulski and Cardin visited different NIH facilities in the same week. Both vowed to get more federal funding for biomedical research, which drives progress in science and health and boosts the economy.

Introducing the senator, Collins said Cardin “hasdone so much to indicate his support over the years for the National Institutes of Health and is here again to convey that message to all of you.” Most recently, Collins noted, Cardin signed on as cosponsor of a bill introduced by Mikulski. The Accelerating Biomedical Research Act “aims to put NIH on a stable trajectory of support after 12 years of losing ground in terms of resources.”

“My mission is to try to get you the tools in order to get your job done,” Cardin said, acknowledging NIH’s major role not only in driving progress in science and health, but also in stimulating the economy—both local and national—as well as job creation.

Although the agency’s fiscal circumstances and prognosis are much better now than when he visited 2 years ago, on the cusp of sequestration and months before the 2013 government shutdown, the senator said he reminds his colleagues in Congress that NIH still needs $6 billion just to get back to 2003 levels. That, Cardin said, is the common goal of every lawmaker representing NIH, including U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

“You should expect from Congress that there will be no more shutdowns, no more sequestration, no more continuing resolutions,” Cardin concluded. “You deserve a budget. This country deserves a budget and you shouldn’t take anything less than that.”

Cardin then joined Collins in chairs set conversation-style on stage, where the senator fielded audience questions and comments. Topics covered a wide range, including the possibility of a grand budgetary bargain, outsourcing federal jobs and the costs of employing contractors, anti-science sentiment in Congress, excessive restrictions on travel for scientific conferences and several concerns about proposed changes to federal employee compensation packages.

The full Cardin event is available for NIH viewing at http://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=16084&bhcp=1.


back to top of page