- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The budget of the National Institutes for Health is expected to fall 3.8 percent next year after adjusting for inflation, a top U.S. biomedical researcher says, adding that the budget doubled each year between 1998 and 2003.

This “0.1 percent decrease from last year … will be the first true budgeted reduction in NIH support since 1970 … this downturn is more severe than we have ever faced previously,” Dr. Joseph Loscalzo, physician-in-chief and chairman of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, writes in an editorial in this week’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. That hospital receives about $190 million a year in NIH funding, a spokesman said.

“Whereas national defense spending has reached approximately $1,600 per capita, federal spending for biomedical research now amounts to about $97 per capita — a rather modest investment in ‘advancing the health, safety and well-being of our people,’” which is a mission of NIH, Dr. Loscalzo, also professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, added.

The Bush administration has proposed a $28.6 billion budget for NIH in fiscal 2007, a 0.1 percent reduction from last year. NIH is the medical research arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“It takes many years for institutions to develop investigators skilled in modern research techniques and to build the costly, complicated infrastructure necessary for biomedical research,” Dr. Loscalzo wrote.

An NIH spokesman said yesterday he was unable to obtain a copy of Dr. Loscalzo’s essay and therefore could not comment.

Amanda Banks, president of the California Biomedical Research Association, said that “without NIH, no company, institution or individual has the kind of money required to get a drug or medical device from benchtop to bedside. A small decrease in the percentage of funding for NIH represents millions of dollars in grants that won’t be there.”

Alan Dittrich of the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research says that if Dr. Loscalzo’s figures are correct, it will mean an $830 million decrease in funding.

“Growth in the NIH budget is essential to keep us in the forefront of medical research,” he said.

Mary Woolley of Research America, a group that shares that opinion, said: “With inflation factored in, an 0.1 percent budget cut would translate into a decrease of $800-plus million.

“Medical and health research should be a higher priority, when we are still plagued with a number of diseases and disabilities for which there will be answers in the foreseeable future,” she said.

An official of the Bethesda-based Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology says the U.S. Department of Commerce has estimated NIH’s inflation rate at 3.8 percent, which makes the reduction figures provided by Ms. Woolley and Mr. Dittrich accurate, considering the Bush administration’s proposed 2007 budget.

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