Cancer Institute Chief Says He's Avoided the Cliff

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

Biomedical researchers are seriously worried about a possible plunge in their chances of winning a grant from the National Institutes of Health after its $10 billion in 2 years of stimulus money runs out in 2011. But the director of the National Cancer Institute, John Niederhuber, doesn't seem as concerned. He told an audience in Washington, D.C., today at the American Association for Cancer Research that NCI has figured out how to ease the transition and avoid "the cliff," as it's known.

NCI did this, he says, by using much of its stimulus money for 4-year grants, paying for the first 2 years with stimulus funds and "pledging" to find money for the third and fourth years. As a result, even if applications soar in 2011—as expected if people with 2-year stimulus funds apply for new grants and others recycle their rejected stimulus applications—the quality cutoff for funding would drop only from 16.8% to 15.7% of applications. "I think we've done a good job in not having this drop down to 10%, for example," Niederhuber said.

So does that mean NCI would be satisfied with the 3.1% raise (to $5.26 billion) in the Obama Administration's 2011 budget proposal? "I don't want to send that message," Niederhuber told ScienceInsider. If that's all NCI gets, meeting the "pledge" could require taking money from existing programs, including ongoing grants, he says.

Posted in Funding, Health