Federal Budget Rollback Could Slash NIH Grant Success Rates

Funding rates for biomedical researchers could drop by half, to a historical low of 10%, if Republicans follow through on their vow to cut overall federal discretionary civilian spending to 2008 levels. That warning came Saturday from National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins in a keynote speech to the American Society of Human Genetics at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

"There are certainly concerns, especially with some of the rhetoric you've heard since Tuesday," when midterm elections took place, Collins said.

Collins said that grant applicants had a one-in-five chance of getting funded during fiscal years 2009 and 2010. But if NIH's 2011 budget is rolled back to its 2008 level, as part of the Republican campaign pledge for non-security federal activities, that success rate could drop to as low as 10% because so much of NIH's budget is tied up in ongoing 4-year grants. "This is, of course, a great source of stress on all of you and on all of us at NIH," Collins said. If the worst happens, he said, NIH would try to protect young scientists through programs that review applications from new investigators separately.