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Champions Emphasize the Power of Medical Research Investment to Stimulate the Economy Short- and Long-Term

Legislative Update
November 18, 2008

Left to right: The Honorable John Porter, Wendell Primus, Ph.D., and Harold Varmus, M.D. speak about the short- and long-term value of biomedical research
Left to right: The Honorable John Porter, Wendell Primus, Ph.D., and Harold Varmus, M.D. speak about the short- and long-term value of biomedical research
Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WV) unveiled a $100.3 billion economic recovery package that includes $1 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Whether this legislation moves through Congress in the lame duck, early in 2009 in the 111th Congress, or as a package to finalize Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 appropriations, the inclusion of NIH funding reflects an acknowledgment of the return on the investment at NIH.

At a late afternoon session on November 18 held by the Society for Neuroscience, former NIH Director Harold Varmus, M.D. (President and CEO, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and science advisor to the Obama campaign) said that Congress now understands the short-term value of research grants-including salaries, indirect expenses with universities, supplies and equipment-to stimulate the economy, as well as the long-term return on investment, which he cited at 150 percent. Joining Dr. Varmus was Wendell Primus, Ph.D., who serves as the Senior Policy Advisor to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Honorable John Porter (Hogan & Hartson), who serves as NAEVR’s Legislative Counsel. Dr. Primus predicted that "research would be treated well in the next Administration and Congress and that Speaker Pelosi is a true believer," which was echoed by Mr. Porter, who previously served as Chair of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee on which Speaker Pelosi formerly sat. Dr. Primus cautioned, however, that he was uncertain when potential NIH increases would be enacted, noting that it would likely be when FY2009 appropriations are finalized in the 111th Congress.

Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington, M.D., Ph.D.
Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington, M.D., Ph.D.
Mr. Porter noted that, in addition to increases to "bring NIH back to where it should be after the devastating impact of five cycles of flat funding and biomedical inflation," NIH needs sustainable annual increases along the lines of 3 percent, plus the biomedical inflation rate (currently 3.5 percent). When asked about potential NIH reauthorization (NIH was reauthorized for three years by the NIH Reform Act of 2006), Dr. Varmus noted that it was unlikely in 2009, as the Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) that was created by the NIH Reform Act to make recommendations on the structure of NIH was just formed and had yet to meet.

The value of medical research was addressed in a November 13 House Energy and Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee hearing, chaired by Cong. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and entitled Treatments for an Ailing Economy: Protecting Health Care Coverage and Investing in Biomedical Research. Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington, M.D., Ph.D., testified on the short- and long-term economic impact of NIH grants, noting that any economic stimulus funds made available to the NIH could be administered quickly with little overhead. In response to questions, he stated that each $500 million increment of additional NIH funding translates into 1,400 grants and 9,000 jobs. During the questions, Subcommittee member Michael Burgess (R-GA), a physician, noted that the NIH Reform Act of 2006 had authorized NIH increases which were not translated into appropriations increases. He reiterated the Committee’s intention in the legislation for sustained increases and expressed his desire that NIH receives these, whether through an economic stimulus bill or final FY2009 appropriations.