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Dr. Collins Testifies Before the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Promising Greater Details about NCATS, NAEVR Submits Written Testimony

Legislative Update
May 12, 2011

On May 11, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. testified before the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee in support of the Obama administration’s proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 NIH budget of $31.7 billion, or a $745 million (2.4 percent) increase over FY2010. Both Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) were in attendance, as well as several members of the Subcommittee.

Dr. Collins cited several examples of cost-savings resulting from NIH-driven improvements in health, as well as studies showing the impact of medical research on jobs and the economy. He and several Subcommittee members cited the just-released United for Medical Research (UMR) study entitled An Economic Engine: NIH Research, Employment, and the Future of the Medical Innovation Sector which reported that NIH directly and indirectly supported nearly 488,000 jobs and produced $68 billion in new economic activity in 2010 alone.

Chairman Harkin lamented the $322 million cut to the NIH in the final Continuing Resolution (CR) that funded the government through the end of FY2011, noting that it translates into a loss of $1.3 billion once biomedical inflation is factored in. He also stated, and Dr. Collins confirmed, that reduced FY2011 NIH funding would result in an anticipated success rate of 17-18 percent, the lowest level on record.

Ranking Member Shelby once again expressed support for NIH’s vital mission, which followed his previous comments at the March 30 Subcommittee hearing with Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at which he cited NIH as "one of the most results-driven aspects of the our entire federal budget,” adding that “research conducted at NIH reduces disabilities, prolongs life, and is an essential component to the health of all Americans. NIH programs consistently meet their performance and outcomes measures, as well as achieve their overall mission." [On April 8, NAEVR presented Sen. Shelby’s staff with a letter commending the Senator for his comments]. At the current hearing, Sen. Shelby questioned Dr. Collins about plans for the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), specifically when Congress would see a plan and a budget amendment, since the Obama administration’s FY2012 budget proposal did not contain a specific line item for its funding. Dr. Collins responded that NIH would shortly provide program and budget details to ensure that NCATS was initially funded in the FY2012 budget process, rather than waiting for FY2013.

Regarding NCATS, both Harold Varmus, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), who accompanied Dr. Collins, added that their respective institutes would continue long-standing programs for translational research. However, as Dr. Fauci noted, a centralized NCATS could advance the discipline of translational research, changing how it is done this century versus the past, which could benefit all existing programs. Dr. Varmus and Dr. Fauci were joined by Griffin Rodgers, M.D., director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), who addressed issues about diabetes and obesity, and Susan Shurin, M.D., acting director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), who addressed NIH’s successful efforts to reduce mortality from cardiovascular disease.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) echoed concerns that she initially voiced on March 30 with Secretary Sebelius, specifically noting how the potential government shutdown, delayed appropriations, and NIH cuts in the FY2011 budget cycle will have far-reaching consequences, especially for academic institutions across the country which receive funding. She then focused on the NIH campus, asking Dr. Collins about the impact of the potential government shutdown on NIH employees’ morale, especially since so many were deemed "non-essential." Dr. Collins responded that it resulted in a great deal of uncertainty for NIH employees.

On May 12, NAEVR filed written testimony with the Subcommittee in support of NIH funding at $35 billion, about $3 billion more than the Obama administration’s proposal. NAEVR cited the March 30 comments from Sen. Shelby on the vital mission of the NIH, as well as Sen. Mikulski’s comments on the negative effects from delayed and reduced appropriations on the biomedical research enterprise.