A Plea to Soften NIH's Post-Stimulus Landing

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

Biomedicine may have done well so far in the economic downturn, but the largest coalition of U.S. biomedical researchers is warning of dire consequences if the National Institutes of Health doesn't continue to get hefty raises.

NIH’s $10.4 billion windfall in stimulus funding runs out in 2011. Today, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) issued a report claiming that the number of competing grants—essentially new awards—will plunge about 40%, from 16,564 to 9850, if NIH's base budget stays at the $31 billion requested by President Barack Obama for 2010. That would put many scientists out of work, FASEB suggests. "We're going to slow progress; we're going to end careers; we're going to be terribly discouraging to young scientists," incoming FASEB President Mark Lively told reporters at a press breakfast this morning.

FASEB calculates that NIH needs a 10% raise in 2011 and 3% above inflation in subsequent years (or about 6% to 7%). That would bring its budget to a stimulus-era level of $36 billion in 2012. The landing could also be softened if investigators get more time to spend their stimulus money, which NIH can do to some degree by giving them 1-year, no-cost extensions, Lively said. Some lawmakers have also proposed stretching out NIH's timeline for disbursing the stimulus. FASEB's message will likely be well-received: Administration officials and key lawmakers have both said that they share the concerns about NIH's budget after the stimulus ends.

Lively also touched on the president's plan to double cancer research at NIH over 8 years, which FASEB opposes because it believes basic science should be supported "across the board." And he lamented the delay in naming a permanent NIH director who could make the case for more NIH funding before Congress.

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