For Some Republicans, NIH Cuts Are a Nonstarter

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U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (L) (R-OK) during a House Budget Committee markup of the Republican health care bill, March 16, 2017. Cole has stated he doesn't agree with President Trump's proposed deep cuts to the NIH. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

What goes on the chopping block: Research into cancer or Alzheimer's? A Zika vaccine or a treatment for superbugs?

In his budget blueprint Thursday, President Donald Trump called for cutting $5.8 billion from the National Institutes of Health. That's a staggering 18 percent drop for the $32 billion agency that funds much of the nation's research into what causes different diseases and what it will take to treat them.

Trump's proposal would roll back NIH's 2018 budget to about what it was in 2003. The president called for a "major reorganization" of NIH to stress the "highest priority research," but only specifically targeted for elimination the $69 million Fogarty International Center that focuses on global health and has played a big role in HIV research abroad.

But it's far from clear if Congress will agree to the cuts. The NIH has long experienced bipartisan support among lawmakers, who awarded the agency an extra $2 billion in 2016.

Here is coverage from around the web, pointing to Republican and other opposition to the proposed cuts. ...


Republicans queasy about Trump’s cuts to medical research (McClatchy)

President Donald Trump’s budget would slash funding for the National Institutes of Health by nearly $6 billion, or 19 percent, a proposal that’s likely to run into staunch opposition from conservatives within Trump’s own party.

Two years ago, Republicans helped secure the largest budget increase for NIH in more than a decade. Led by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Kevin Yoder and Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the effort resulted in a $2 billion jump in funding and enabled the NIH to give out 1,147 more grants nationwide.

The GOP lawmakers again worked across the aisle in November to pass the bipartisan Cures Act, which would allocate more money to the NIH. It had less than Blunt, Yoder and Moran had wanted, but more than President Barack Obama had requested in his budget.

So when Trump released his budget on Thursday, proposing an NIH budget of about $26 billion, it quickly became apparent that the cuts to medical research were one of the few proposals that Republicans would be willing to criticize openly.

GOP congressman on Trump's proposed cuts to NIH, CDC: 'You're much more likely to die in a pandemic than a terrorist attack' (The Week)

(Rep. Tom) Cole argued that defense spending — which Trump's budget blueprint calls for ratcheting up by $54 billion — is no more important than investing in health research. "You're much more likely to die in a pandemic than a terrorist attack, and so that's part of the defense of the country as well," Cole said. "The CDC is what protects you from things like Ebola and Zika. The NIH, we have 1.6 million Americans a year that contract cancer. About 600,000 die. That is more people than died in the Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history."

Trump's Budget Proposal Cuts NIH Funding by 20 Percent (The Atlantic)

The agency, which distributes funding to some 300,000 scientists worldwide, has seen its funding wax and wane over the last 20-odd years. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Congress doubled its funding each year, infusing the agency with cash. But for years afterward, the budgets stayed stagnant. Funding advocates explain that NIH didn’t lose its bipartisan support—other issues, like national defense, simply became more pressing. This hurt the agency’s ability to fund scientists’ research grants and labs’ ability to retain young researchers, and made planning for multi-year projects extremely difficult.

Scientists and NIH officials alike were encouraged by the recent enthusiasm around NIH. In an interview last year, agency Director Francis Collins said he hoped Congress would begin “a trend to get us back on a stable, predictable, upward trajectory.” At the time, lawmakers seemed mostly on board with that plan, as the Republican chairs of the relevant funding panels both supported future budget bumps. Congress hasn’t settled on funding for the 2017 fiscal year, but legislators planned for another NIH increase of up to $2 billion.

The question now is how closely congressional Republicans will conform to the president’s proposal as they craft their own budgets, and how strongly the president’s staff will push for this particular cut.

Trump NIH Cuts Would Be 'Catastrophic Event,' Says Bush-Era NIH Chief (Forbes)

Elias Zerhouni was nominated as director of the National Institutes of Health by George W. Bush in 2002, a role in which he served until 2008. Since 2011, he has run research and development at Sanofi, the world's fifth-largest drug company by sales. He says he's disturbed by the budget proposal of President Donald Trump. ...

"It will be a catastrophic event because the NIH funds grants over four or five years and therefore only has 20% of its budget to give at any one year," Zerhouni says. "Therefore, if you cut it by $6 billion it means next year there will be no grants. It’s really ill-advised, I think, to change budgets so drastically so quickly. It will be very detrimental, especially on young investigators or new investigators, new science. It will set back the NIH significantly after years of stagnation, but recent support from Congress. I find it disturbing, to be honest with you.

20% cut to NIH budget would leave Americans more vulnerable to cancer and other diseases, experts warn (L.A. Times)

Even scientists that have been critical of the NIH rallied to its defense.

J. Craig Venter, a genetics pioneer and chief executive of the J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, said the proposed cuts would forfeit American primacy in a sector where the United States enjoys “absolutely dominant leadership in the world.”

“This is an engine that drives our entire economy,” he said. “Our federal money can be better spent. But cutting these budgets will only make it 10 times worse.”

Faced with bare-bones budgets, Venter said, the NIH will put an end to any high-risk research. Like a drug company whose new CEO cuts costs by axing research and development, the U.S. could soon see its pipeline of innovative therapies has gone dry.

“The ones that suffer most are new investigators with new ideas,” he said. “It’ll just be a disaster for the U.S. economy.”

Trump’s budget is everything scientists have been fearing (Vox)

Already, competition for NIH grants is intense. Its funding has basically plateaued over the past decade. At the same time, the cost of research keeps increasing, and an ever-growing pool of PhDs is competing for a relatively smaller pile of grant money.

Consider this: In 2000, more than 30 percent of NIH grant applications got approved. Today, it’s closer to 17 percent. It’s not crazy math: The less money there is to go around, the fewer projects get funded.

According to Hourihan, when the NIH’s budget dropped 5 percent from sequestration cuts, they had to cut around 700 individual grants (out of about 9,000). With a 20 percent cut, “we’re likely talking about [grant] cuts in the hundreds, if not the thousands,” he says.

The first hearing by the subcommittee that oversees NIH is scheduled for Tuesday.


Associated Press contributed to this report.