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NIH Advocates Troubled by House Funding Bill

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A bill in the US House of Representatives that includes funding for the National Institutes of Health has stirred concerns among some of NIH's advocates because it includes several proposals that they say would hinder the NIH in its mission.

Measures included in the NIH funding bill, which would provide the institutes with a flat budget next year, would put restrictions on NIH's review processes and its grant program planning capability and would gut a program focused on studying medical effectiveness, according to two groups that are criticizing the bill.

The Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology and the Association of American Medical Colleges have both stated that provisions in the bill, which passed the House Appropriations Committee's Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies subcommittee last week, would put extra burdens on NIH and would jeopardize its effectiveness and management capabilities.

For example, the bill prohibits NIH from spending on research projects until the director certifies that it is of significantly high scientific value and will have a measurable impact on human health.

"The NIH already has a peer review process that ensures that the research it supports is scientifically valuable," FASEB President Judith Bond said in a statement this week. "Therefore, it is neither necessary nor feasible for the Department of Health and Human Services to review the tens of thousands of activities funded annually by the agency," she added.

FASEB said that such a stipulation would have a deleterious impact on NIH's ability to fund the basic science aimed at discovering the causes of diseases and the function of organs that makes up such a large part of its portfolio.

The bill also includes language mandating that the NIH director should ensure that 90 percent of the NIH budget is allocated for funding extramural activities, and 10 percent for intramural, with at least 55 percent for basic science studies.

"Mandating a certain number of awards could constrain the agency’s ability to support the optimal number of research trainees,” Bond added.

Another measure in the NIH budget would limit the salaries of investigators funded by NIH grants it to executive level III, or around $165,000, to make room for more grants, Dave Moore, AAMC's senior director of government relations told GenomeWeb Daily News this week. Currently, NIH appropriations rules have the investigator funding limit set at level II, which is just under $180,000, Moore explained.

"This is something that the House has tried to do the past couple of years – trying to put some statutory directives in [the budget] to try to manage how NIH manages its money," Moore told GWDN.

"We believe that it is counterproductive to have these types of statutory directives or statutory limits that really do impede the agency's flexibility to respond to the most promising scientific challenges," he said.

AAMC also is concerned about another provision in the bill that would rescind $150 million that funds the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund, which was established under the Affordable Care Act to support the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, and a prohibition on using any funding in the bill for patient-centered outcomes research, Moore explained.

PCORI is tasked with supporting research that generates the best available data on the effectiveness of treatments and to help doctors make more informed decisions. Moore said that the push against such research is part of a broader opposition that Republicans have articulated about patient centered research.

The bill is still very early in the legislative process and Moore said it is unclear if or when the bill will move to the Appropriations Committee. If it moves further along in the process, the parts of the bill that FASEB and AAMC object to may also be dropped. Because the bill also includes language that would rescind funding for the Affordable Care Act, a step that President Obama and the Democratic-led Senate have said they will not support, it is unlikely to advance in its current form beyond the House until after the November elections.

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