Senate Panel Approves $100 Million Boost for NIH in 2013

The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday approved a modest $100 million raise for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the 2013 fiscal year which begins on 1 October. The 0.3% bump to a total of $30.723 billion is slightly better than the president's request for no increase, but it is disappointing to the research community.

The bill funding NIH provides $40 million for the Cures Acceleration Network, four times its current budget (but $10 million below the president's request). But it rejects a proposal by the president to cut $50 million from the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which seeks to give institutions in poorer states a better shot at NIH funding. Instead, the committee would maintain funding at about $276 million. "The Committee believes the IDeA program has made a significant contribution to biomedical research and creating a skilled workforce," it notes in a report accompanying the bill. It also urges NIH to expand the number of schools eligible for the program.

The committee did back a requested $28 million trim, to $165 million, for the National Children's Study (NCS), an ambitious but troubled federal plan to follow the health of 100,000 children from before birth to age 21. The panel hopes the 15% cut "represents a positive sign that NIH intends to bring the costs of the NCS under control and spend its appropriation more efficiently," it writes in the report. "The Committee is troubled that after appropriating nearly [$1 billion] for the NCS since the first work on it began in fiscal year 2000, only a few thousand children have been enrolled and fundamental questions about the project's implementation still remain, particularly regarding the methods that will be used to recruit participants." The panel also wants the National Academy of Sciences to review NCS's statistical sampling strategy and for NIH to "improve its level of communication with the research community about any future changes to the project."

On the subject of Alzheimer's disease, the panel chastised NIH officials for plans to boost research in the field by snagging $80 million from a $500 million Prevention and Public Health (PPH) Fund created by health care reform legislation. "NIH research is not an appropriate use of the PPH Fund," it wrote. "Additionally, the Committee believes it would set a dangerous precedent to provide specific amounts of NIH funding for individual diseases. The Committee notes that it took the same position in fiscal year 2010 when the administration proposed allocating specific levels of funding for cancer and autism research."

The bill must still be approved by the full Senate. The House appropriations panel has yet to introduce its version of the bill.