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Senate Plan Trims NHGRI Budget, Urges 'Creative' Allocating at NIH

By Matt Jones

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A 2012 spending plan passed by the US Senate Appropriations committee late last week that would trim the budget of the National Institutes of Health by .6 percent to $30.5 billion would result in a cut of around 1 percent at the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Included in the $190 million to be pulled from NIH's total budget next year would be a cut at NHGRI of around $5.7 million, from $511.5 million in 2011 to $505.7 million in FY2012, according to the plan.

The budget also would provide $582 million to launch the National Center for Advancing Translational Research, which NIH Director Francis Collins has championed as a "bold step" for government-funded biomedical research, and it would eliminate the National Center for Research Resources to make room for the new center. The committee also includes another $20 million to NCATS to fund the Cures Acceleration Network, which was authorized under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In the budget, which funds the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, the committee members expressed regret "that fiscal constraints prevent a higher recommended funding level for NIH. With tight budgets likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the [Appropriations] Committee strongly urges NIH to explore creative ways to rethink the way it allocates its funding.

"The alternative—continuing to nick away, little by little, at the success rate or the size of awards—will inevitably have a negative impact on young investigators, who represent the nation's future, and on high-risk, high-reward research opportunities."

The committee also credited NIH with "making significant efforts in both of these priority areas despite relatively flat budgets in recent years," and highlighted the New Innovator and Pathway to Independence Awards as the sort of programs that fund "exceptionally innovative ideas" that NIH should continue and expand.

The National Cancer Institute's budget would see a cut of around one percent from $5.06 billion to $5 billion under the Senate plan, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also would dip around one percent to $4.7 billion.

The plan also would snip funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, proposing $6.22 billion, a small cut of around $63 million. The budget does not specify a funding level for the Office of Public Health Genomics, although CDC has already planned to slash the office's budget by 90 percent, or $11.6 million, and restructure its genomics research branch.

CDC said early this year that OPHG's genomic activities "overlap with other federal agencies," and the agency intends to "focus the staff on the implementation of proven applications of genomics to areas of public health importance."

The Senate proposal also would provide $252.4 million to CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.