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Senate Spending Panel Approves $1 Billion Boost for NIH

Like its House of Representatives counterpart 2 weeks ago, a Senate subcommittee today matched President Barack Obama's request for a $1 billion increase in 2011 for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That raise would bring the agency's total budget to $32 billion, or 3.5% above the 2010 level, according to a statement from the Senate appropriations labor, health, and human services subcommittee.

Because the Senate panel had less money to work with in its budget allocation than the corresponding House subcommittee, biomedical research advocates feared the number would be lower. "We're pleased. Given the overall budget situation, it's a very good outcome," said David Moore, senior director for government relations at the Association of American Medical Colleges. Even so, the $1 billion falls far short of the amount that some biomedical groups feel NIH needs to avoid a sharp drop in the number of grants the agency supports next year after the agency's stimulus money runs out.

The bill also contains $50 million for the Cures Acceleration Network, a drug-development program added to the health reform bill earlier this year by Senator Arlen Specter (D–PA).

The House panel had approved "up to" $50 million for the new program—a slight difference that will need to be worked out. It's not yet clear whether appropriators found that money by making a slight cut in the budgets of NIH's 27 institutes and centers. "The $50 million has to come from somewhere," Moore says. Some scientific groups worry that it will come at the expense of investigator-initiated grants.

Both House and Senate bills will go to the full appropriations committees before the two houses meet to work out a compromise bill. A vote on the final bill is not expected until after the November congressional elections.