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NIH Details Impact of 2013 Sequester Cuts


National Institutes of Health

After weeks of worrying about how the mandatory across-the-board 2013 budget cuts known as the sequester would play out at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the biomedical research community now has final figures. The bottom line is as grim as expected: The agency's overall budget will fall by $1.71 billion compared to 2012, to $29.15 billion, a cut of about 5%, according to an NIH notice today. That is essentially what NIH predicted as part of the 5.1% sequestration. (Including transfers to other agencies and other adjustments in the spending bill funding NIH in 2013, the total reduction is $1.71 billion or 5.5% compared to 2012.)

As a result, NIH expects to fund 8283 new and competing research grants this year, a drop of 703, according to this table. That number firms up the "hundreds fewer" awards that NIH officials warned of earlier this year. Including ongoing (already awarded) grants that are ending, the total number of research grants will drop by 1357 to 34,902 awards. The decline "reflects the fact that NIH's budget is being shrunk due to the new budget and political reality, which is bad news for researchers and the patients they are trying to help," says Tony Mazzaschi of the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C.

NIH will try to keep the size of the average award consistent with 2012; it will not award inflationary increases for future years. The agency also expects to trim continuing grants. Grants that were cut up to 10% earlier this year because of budget uncertainty "may be partially restored," but probably not to the original commitment level, NIH's notice says.

Individual institutes have also begun to announce their sequester plans. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is actually being cut by 5.8% to $4.78 billion because of transfers to other departments, NCI Director Harold Varmus told grantees yesterday. Varmus wants to keep new and competing grants steady, and NCI expects to make 1006 awards, a decline of only 79. But to do this, NCI will trim ongoing grants by about 6%, centers by 6.5%, and contracts by 8.5%. Similar or larger cuts will be made to intramural programs, Varmus writes. Success rates, currently around 14%, "may decline a small degree," Varmus writes. "Needless to say, no one at the NCI is happy about these reductions, but they are now unavoidable for FY2013."

At the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), which is being trimmed by about 5%, to $2.3 billion, ongoing grants and centers will take a more modest 3.5% hit. But NIGMS expects to fund only 758 new grants, a slide of 210 awards. The success rate is expected to be 18%.

As for how these cuts will affect individual labs, that may not be known for a while as award notices trickle out to grantees. However, NIH Director Francis Collins is already seeking anecdotes of the sequester's impact via a twitter discussion he launched yesterday using the hashtag #NIHSequesterImpact. "I'll be sharing some of your stories to try to turn this mess around," he wrote in a follow-up tweet. A sampling of responses appears below.

*Update at 11:45 a.m. on 10 May: The original article stated that NIH's budget will be cut $1.55 billion in 2013, but this is only with sequestration. Including $156 million in transfers to other agencies and other adjustments to NIH's budget in the fiscal year 2013 continuing resolution, the overall reduction is $1.71 billion, or 5.5%.