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Senate Subcommittee Passes Small NIH Cut, Funds NCATS

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Senate's key panel responsible for setting government funding levels yesterday passed a plan that would trim the budget at the National Institutes of Health next year by around .6 percent to $30.5 billion and would provide resources to create a new center championed by NIH Director Francis Collins that would focus on translational medicine.

The plan the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee passed late yesterday would cut NIH's funding by $190 million, compared with the $30.7 billion the institute eventually had to work with for 2011 after a late budget deal was reached in April between the White House and Congress.

The full numbers in the plan are not yet available but may become available today after the plan is voted on by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.

Congress is not expected to have agreements on appropriations bills ready for FY2012, which begins in less than two weeks. All of the government, including the Department of Health and Human Services which funds NIH, will operate under continuing resolutions at 2011 levels until an agreement is reached.

The cuts to NIH, which do not take biomedical inflation costs into account, were not unexpected. But the proposal may inspire some sighs of relief at NIH, where senior staff members have been bracing for potentially steep cuts to come as Congress and the White House seek to substantially reduce the federal budget deficit.

At an NIH leadership meeting in May, National Human Genome Research Institute Director Eric Green said that the funding landscape for all of NIH and NHGRI for 2012 "is not a very pretty picture," and explained that the .8 percent budget cut NIH saw for this year was "the first cut to NIH in a long, long time."

Until the entire plan is available, it is unclear how much funding will be set aside for the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS). The most recent budget proposal from HHS requested $721.6 million for NCATS, most of which would come from funding previously marked for the National Center for Research Resources, which is being disbanded.

According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the plan does include $20 million for the Cures Acceleration Network, to be housed in NCATS, which will provide grants to biotech companies, universities, and patient advocacy groups.

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