House Panel Approves 3.2% Raise for NIH in 2011

A House of Representatives spending panel yesterday approved a $1 billion increase, to $32 billion, in the 2011 budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

That 3.2% hike matches President Barack Obama's request for the agency. Groups such as the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) have warned that NIH needs much more to prevent a crash after stimulus funds run out next year. But FASEB legislative analyst Jennifer Zeitzer says the organization is "pleased with what happened" given the pressure to fund other agencies within the jurisdiction of the House labor, health and human services, and education appropriations subcommittee.

In a statement, Representative David Obey (D–WI), who chairs both the full appropriations committee and the NIH panel, said the bill would allow NIH to spend up to $50 million of its increase on the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN), a program created by the health care reform bill earlier this year that would give out large grants for drug development. The law authorizes spending up to $500 million in the program's first year.

Zeitzer says it's not yet clear whether the panel approved a line item for the program or whether NIH has leeway to decide where to find the money within its overall budget. Although supportive of CAN, she says any resulting cut in research grants "will be felt by the community."

A Senate spending bill could meet to vote on its version of the 2011 appropriations bill before the end of this month.