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Senate's NIH Budget Aims for Flat Funding for NHGRI, Boost for NCATS

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The bill to fund the National Institutes of Health next year that the Senate Appropriations Committee passed last week would keep funding for the National Human Genome Research Institute flat compared with this fiscal year, at $512.9 million in 2013 compared with $512.7 million in 2012, and would provide marginal adjustments up or down across the NIH institutes.

As GenomeWeb Daily News reported last week, the Senate bill to fund Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education would provide NIH with an increase of $100 million for FY 2013 to $30.73 billion in total. That increase will not be enough to match the rise in biomedical inflation costs, which has been estimated to be around 3.5 percent next year, according to the group United for Medical Research.

In the bill, the committee also explained that the net funding for NIH would actually amount to a cut of more than $200 million below FY 2012, because the Appropriations Committee has rejected a proposal by the Obama Administration to increase a fund called a program evaluation "budget tap" that is used specifically for the NIH and Public Health Service Agencies.

With or without the budget tap, the $30.73 billion is about the same as the amount sought by the White House in its 2013 budget request and will result in flat budgets at institutes and centers across the NIH.

Even with expectations that the NIH budget will be flat from this year to the next, the institute expects to award nearly 700 more competing research project grants next year than this year, Neil Shapiro, director of the NIH's Office of Management budget office, told senior institute officials at a quarterly meeting last Thursday.

Shapiro explained to the meeting of the Advisory Committee to the Director that the institute expects to be able to increase the number of competing RPGs to over 9,400 next year from around 8,750 in 2012 by reducing the cycle times of some of the grants.

"Where previously a grant would have been made for four or five years, if it is made for three years it will turn over more frequently," enabling NIH to award more grants, he told the committee.

While most of the NIH institutes would see flat budgets under this bill, a notable exception is the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which would receive a boost of nearly 10 percent, with its budget rising to $631.3 million from $574.8 million.

The committee said in the bill that it is "encouraged by the direction" NCATS has taken, and it specifically praised the center's new collaboration with pharmaceutical firms to enable researchers to study dozens of well-developed, proprietary compounds for use in new applications.

Also under the Senate committee bill, the National Cancer Institute would receive $5.08 billion, an increase of around $16 million over last year, with $8 million of that marked for repairs and improvements to the NCI facility in Frederick, Maryland.

The committee also encouraged NCI to explore the applicability of high-throughput robotic biospecimen collection technologies, and establishing regional robotic biorepositories that could improve the efficiency and consistency of the handling and processing of samples, which are examined to determine genetic differences in tumor development, disease progression, and treatment response. The committee suggested that an automated approach to these processes could increase the amount of biospecimens NCI collects and handles.

Under this budget plan, the Office of the Director would take a small cut to $1.43 billion from $1.46 billion. That budget includes $165 million to be used for the continuation of the National Children's Study, a long-term effort to recruit and study the genes, environments, and health outcomes of 100,000 US children from birth to adulthood — but the funding is $28 million less than the study received for 2012.

The committee said it is "troubled" that only a few thousand children have been enrolled and "fundamental questions about the project's implementation remain, particularly regarding the methods that will be used to recruit participants."

The committee said that it supports the NIH-led Tox21 Program, a collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration to develop new ways to predict toxicity for thousands of chemicals, and that funding should be made available to evaluate the relevance and reliability of the program's methods and prediction tools to show that they can be used for regulatory purposes. It also asked for the Office of the Director to provide a report on the Tox21 program's funding and activities in its budget justification for the 2014 fiscal year.

The committee also commended NIH on its participation in the NIH-FDA Joint Leadership Council that is charged with ensuring that regulatory considerations are a component of biomedical research planning.

Under the bill, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is marked for $4.51 billion in funding, and small increase of around $23 million over this year.

The committee asked NIAID to enhance research into antibacterial resistance in microbes by forming a "blue ribbon panel" of experts from the pharmaceuticals and diagnostics industries and professional organizations to create a strategic plan to prioritize research efforts in this area. It urged NIAID to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA to consult representatives from diagnostics and pharmaceutical companies, academia, and professional societies to explore the most effective ways to provide samples for antimicrobial resistance studies, including the feasibility of creating a biorepository. These samples would be used in studies of the treatment, identification, and prevention of antimicrobial-resistant infections.

The committee also wants NIAID to submit a report next year on what its long-term plans are for the 13 Regional Biocontainment Laboratories the institute developed in response to its Strategic Plan for Biodefense Research, a plan that was drafted in 2002.
The bill also proposes a budget of $2.39 billion for the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a dip of approximately $40 million from this year. That funding includes $276.5 million for the Institutional Development Awards, or IDeA program, including $45.9 million for the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence awards, and it will be paid for by trimming funding across NIH's other institutes and centers.

No major FY 2013 appropriations measures have been taken in the House of Representatives yet, although NIH Director Francis Collins is scheduled to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee tomorrow morning.