NIH Budget Reaches Doubling Point

25 January 2002 (All day)

WASHINGTON, D.C.--President George W. Bush will propose a National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget of $27.3 billion, a rise of almost 16% that represents a doubling since 1998. The sum is gratifying to biomedical lobbying groups, which have pushed hard to double the NIH budget over 5 years. But the victory isn't entirely sweet: The bulk of the new money in 2003 would go for bioterrorism, which means most of NIH's 27 institutes will likely get smaller increases.

Category Amount
(in $ millions)
Basic R&D $260 Six extramural centers of excellence ($60M), pathogen genomics, proteomics
Drug development $534 Drug screening, vaccines, diagnostics, animal models development
Clinical studies $186 Smallpox vaccine trials
Research infrastructure $580 Biosafety Level 3 and 4 facilities at NIH campus, extramural
Bioterrorism boost. The president's budget plan proposes hefty spending in bioterrorism research and facilities.

Bush's intentions for NIH were announced on 25 January but will not be spelled out in detail until the full budget proposal is released in early February. The president's plan would boost NIH's $23.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2002 by a record $3.7 billion. The funding will support a slight rise in the number of research project grants to about 36,000.

About $1.5 billion of the increase would be devoted to bioterrorism projects. "Virtually all of it," or around 97%, will go to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says NIAID director Anthony Fauci. It's a huge amount compared to the institute's $2.4 billion budget in 2002. The projects will include basic research, such as genome sequencing of bioterrorism agents, as well as work on new anthrax vaccines and diagnostic tools (see table).

The other area favored by the Bush plan is cancer-related research, most of which is done by the National Cancer Institute. Cancer-related research would receive $5.5 billion, a 13% increase, to pursue "growing opportunities" in fighting cancer, according to a press release from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Reaching the doubling "is really good news," especially given "all the other pressures on the budget," such as new defense spending and the return of a deficit, says budget analyst Dave Moore of the Association of American Medical Colleges. However, after subtracting the bioterrorism and cancer funds, institutes other than NCI and NIAID may get as little as an 8% increase, biomedical groups expect. That's not shabby, but it would fall far short of increases in recent years of around 13% that were distributed roughly equally across most institutes. "I think it will be of concern to some people in the community," says Moore.

NIH acting director Ruth Kirschstein, however, defends the president's priorities, saying, "bioterrorism is a situation that everybody feels should be taken care of." She adds, "The president considers this a doubling and as far as I'm concerned, it's a doubling. ... We are very pleased." At any rate, Congress will weigh in on the total as well as its distribution this fall.

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