A draft bill released by a House of Representatives spending panel today would give the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, a $1.25 billion raise in 2019, to $38.3 billion. That is 3% more than this year’s level and $4.1 billion more than President Donald Trump’s administration had requested.
Although researchers are welcoming the modest bump, the bill also brings back a proposed ban on research with fetal tissue that alarmed the scientific community last year.
The measure from the House Appropriations Committee includes $401 million in new funding for research on Alzheimer’s disease, bringing the total to $2.25 billion. The All of Us personalized medicine study receives a $147 million raise, to $437 million. The cancer moonshot would get a $100 million bump, to $400 million, and the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative would grow by $29 million to $429 million. Some funding for these last three programs comes from $711 million provided by the 21st Century Cures Act.
Speaking today at a meeting of his advisory committee, NIH Director Francis Collins called the bill “very good news.” He noted that the Senate usually allocates a slightly higher amount that ends up being NIH’s final budget, so the House figure “puts us on a very positive trajectory.”
“Frankly, we’re relieved” by the modest increase because the labor, health and human services, and education subcommittee that drafted the bill had a small overall allocation to fund NIH and other agencies, says Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
The measure disregards a controversial proposal from the Trump administration to fold three Department of Health and Human Services research agencies into NIH, including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; its budget would remain flat at $334 million. The bill also appears to block a Trump plan to sharply lower the maximum salary that can be paid with an NIH grant. Although Trump’s budget says this would free up funds for research, academic medical centers say they would have to make up the difference. The House bill appears to keep the allowed salary at the current level of $189,600.
But as with last year’s spending bill, the subcommittee included language drafted by House Republicans that would ban NIH from funding research with human fetal tissue obtained through an elective abortion. According to the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Skokie, Illinois, this “would roll back decades of consensus in the U.S., irreparably delaying the development of new medical treatments.” Last year, the Senate did not include the ban in its bill but called for a study on other ways to obtain fetal tissue. Neither proposal was part of the final 2018 NIH spending bill.
The subcommittee will vote on the bill tomorrow; it will move to the full committee next week when more details will be released. The corresponding Senate panel is expected to take up its version of the bill the following week.