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NIH: Agency Growth Matches Biomedical Inflation Rate

by Britt E. Erickson
February 28, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 9

The fiscal 2012 budget request gives the National Institutes of Health $32.0 billion, an increase of $1.0 billion, or 3.4%, compared with the 2011 continuing resolution. The increase matches the estimated 2012 biomedical inflation rate.

The 2012 budget provides increases of about 2% for each of NIH’s institutes and centers. The one outlier is the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which gets a 9.0% increase. This outsized increase stems from the transfer of $304 million in 2010 to NIAID from the Department of Homeland Security for biodefense countermeasures. There are no funds left in that account, so under the current continuing resolution, the money can’t be transferred to NIAID. According to NIH’s Office of Budget, “the Administration supports replacing this transfer with budget authority for NIAID in 2011,” but Congress has yet to act.

NIH plans to use its extra funds to support innovative biomedical research and boost its investment in translational medicine. The agency is in the process of creating a new center called the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) to help speed the discovery of new therapeutics (C&EN, Feb. 14, page 25). The center would be formed by consolidating up to $1.1 billion of existing NIH programs focused on drug development and clinical research.

Although NCATS is slated to open in October 2011, which marks the beginning of fiscal 2012, budget numbers for the center have yet to be released. NIH expects to have those numbers before appropriators begin marking up the 2012 budget this spring.

The 2012 budget request does, however, provide $100 million for the Cures Acceleration Network, a program that was authorized under the health care reform bill and is slated to become a part of NCATS. This is the first time funds have been requested for that program.

As part of the effort to establish NCATS, NIH plans to abolish the National Center for Research Resources, although funds for the center are included in the 2012 request. All NCRR programs would be transferred to NCATS or other institutes and centers at NIH.

NIH is also planning to invest in advancing technologies, such as DNA sequencing, microarray technology, nanotechnology, imaging, and computational biology, to help elucidate the causes of complex diseases.

“New frontiers of research like cell-based therapies and genomics have the promise to unlock revolutionary treatments and cures for diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to cancer to autism,” Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said during a budget briefing. “Our budget will allow the world’s leading scientists to pursue these discoveries while keeping America at the forefront of biomedical research.”

Other priorities for NIH in 2012 include supporting research that compares the effectiveness of new therapies and research focusing on personalized medicine. In addition, the agency plans to increase its investment in programs that support new investigators with high-impact projects and talented young scientists who have just finished their doctoral degrees.

NIH plans to continue investing in its Common Fund, administered by the Office of the Director. The 2012 budget proposal provides the fund with $557 million, an increase of 2.4% compared with 2011. The fund will support research that requires participation by multiple NIH institutes or centers.


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