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Howard Hughes Slashes Spending; Lab Budgets to Decline 20 Percent

NEW YORK, Nov. 18 - The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the country's major non-governmental funders of biomedical research, said last week that the weak economy has forced it to cut grants, administrative expenses, and research budgets.


The nonprofit institute spent about $665 million underwriting science education and biomedical research in 2001. But as national and global economies slowed, the HHMI endowment has dwindled from a peak of $13.4 billion in 2000 to roughly $10 billion today.


As a result, the institute has cut staff, instituted a hiring freeze, and reduced administrative costs by about $3.5 million. HHMI has eliminated its Research Resources program, which doled out about $22 million a year to help medical schools improve their labs, and its science education grants program is "under review." This program, funded at $114 million last year, subsidizes education costs for foreign researchers, undergrad, and graduate science students.


HHMI investigators will see their budgets reduced by up to 10 percent a year for the next two years.


The Howard Hughes Medical Institute chooses elite investigators in labs across the country to support them with generous grants for a minimum of five to seven years. Technically, they are employees of the institute, but most investigators remain onsite at their home universities. At the end of 2001, the institute employed 337 investigators at 70 sites.


Current HHMI investigators include Massachusetts Institute of Technology's H. Robert Horvitz, Stanford's Patrick Brown, and University of California at Santa Cruz' David Haussler.