President Would Give NIH Slight 2.4% Boost in 2012

The president's budget would give the National Institutes of Health (NIH) a modest 2.4% raise in 2012 of $745 million over the 2010 level, bringing the total to $31.8 billion.

The request includes one major new program: the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which would "re-engineer the pipeline for diagnostics and therapeutics discovery and development," a budget document explains. NCATS would be built in part from a $485 million clinical research support program at the National Center for Research Resources. NCRR, despite protests from the research community, is slated to be abolished.

However, NCRR remains a line item in the 2012 budget and NCATS is not there. That's because the agency is still figuring out where to put the other pieces of NCRR, NIH Director Francis Collins told reporters today.

Some programs to be folded into NCATS would get hefty increases in 2012. The Cures Acceleration Network, a drug development program created by last year's health care law, would be funded for the first time at $100 million. And another program called TRND that develops drugs for rare and neglected diseases would see its budget double to $50 million. Most NIH institutes, however, would receive raises between 1.6% and 2%.

NIH also wants to give graduates and postdocs on training fellowships a 4% increase in their stipends this year. The agency would fund 9158 new research project grants, a drop of 228 from the 2010 level. The average success rate for a submitted application would dip below 21% for the first time, to 19% this year and next.

The 2.4% proposed funding increase falls short of projected inflation for biomedical research of 3% in 2012, and the agency is already losing about that much in buying power this year if, as expected, its budget stays flat. But Collins told reporters, "in this kind of fiscal climate ...for NIH to still be given a chance to see an increase of $745 million is a reflection of just how strongly the president feels about science and innovation as a driver of our economy and of our future in public health."

And biomedical researchers are "exhilarated, not so much by the number" but the fact that NIH is slated for an increase, says William Talman, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The slight raise "speaks to [Obama's] commitment to biomedical research," Talman says.