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Varmus Calls Proposed NIH Cuts Concerning

Even though US President Donald Trump's budget proposal is just a wish list, former National Institute of Health Director Harold Varmus writes at the New York Times that it is still a cause for concern.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration proposed a federal budget that included a nearly 20 percent cut to the NIH budget, as well as reductions to the budgets of other scientific agencies. In an opinion piece appearing in the Times, Varmus notes that Congress, which typically offers broad bipartisan support for biomedical research, determines appropriations. However, he says that the Trump administration proposal may serve as a starting point for negotiations. "It is not difficult to imagine a compromise in which the NIH suffers a steep reduction," he writes.

As more than 80 percent of the NIH budget goes toward grants to researchers outside the agency, Varmus says the effect of any cuts will be felt at universities and medical schools across the country. Deep cuts, he adds, may prevent nascent scientific careers from getting off the ground and leave research projects unfinished.

"Even if negotiations produce cuts less severe than the president proposes for 2018, it seems likely that he will not be any more respectful of the NIH — or of science in general — in ensuing years," he adds.