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FAS is appalled by the first reduction in health research funding in 36 years

FAS is appalled by the first reduction in health research funding in 36 years
12-22-2005

Author: Michael Stebbins

Type: Release


The Department of Health and Human Services appropriations bill is now finalized and Congress has imposed the first cut in funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 36 years.

This appalling decision will slow research that saves lives and reduces suffering. Growing threats of infectious disease, concerns about biological weapons, and the enormous opportunities opened up by recent research breakthroughs in genomics and other areas of biomedical research mean that we should be sharply increasing research in health related fields. The cuts imposed by Congress will threaten jobs and the competitive position of US firms facing increasing pressure from well funded health research programs around the world.

The cuts were crafted in an opaque budget process and cloaked in a blizzard of misleading statistics. Here are the facts. The budget for fiscal year 2006 in the bill that just passed will give NIH $253 million more than it was provided in 2005 – an increase of 0.9%. This number is widely quoted. But there are two catches.

  1. Only $153 million of the reported increase will fund NIH research. (Now we’re down to an 0.5% increase.)
  2. In a separate part of the budget documents we find an across the board cut that will reduce NIH discretionary funding by 1%.

So after the dust settles, the NIH budget for 2006 will actually be about $125 million lower than it was in 2005. And this doesn’t count the effects of inflation. The actual buying power of NIH research will decline by at least 2.5%.

To understand the impact of these kinds of cuts, consider a few of the many achievements the National Institutes of Health have made over the past two years:

  • Complete sequence of the human genome,
  • clinical trials for pandemic flu vaccine,
  • immunotherapy for melanoma, identification of a gene associated with the most common form of blindness,
  • a rapid test for inherited immune deficiency,
  • development of a vaccine to prevent bacterial pneumonia in children, and
  • a test that predicts the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Future achievements like this will be blocked or slowed by the short sighted cuts in the 2006 research budget.

In his 2005 State of the Union address, President Bush stated his view of science funding:

“Because a society is measured by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, we must strive to build a culture of life. Medical research can help us reach that goal, by developing treatments and cures that save lives and help people overcome disabilities -- and I thank the Congress for doubling the funding of the National Institutes of Health.”

If the President signs the Labor Health and Human Services appropriations bill, he will be endorsing a cut to medical research that, in his own words, saves lives.

For more information please contact Michael Stebbins, PhD. Director of Biology Policy. mstebbins@fas.org

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