Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle demonstrated growing bipartisan support for increased funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at a hearing of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee. The October 7 session featured testimony from NIH Director, Francis Collins, MD, PhD, who was well received by the 13 senators in attendance.
The discussion focused on how additional funding for medical research will generate new knowledge, improve health, and drive economic growth, echoing many of the same themes that were explored at a similar hearing this spring. In his opening statement, LHHS Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) expressed pride at the high priority placed on NIH funding this year, noting the $2 billion increase that was approved by the subcommittee in June. Ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) urged her colleagues to reach a bipartisan budget deal that would allow the increased funding for NIH proposed by the subcommittee to become a reality.
Following Collins’s testimony, subcommittee members raised a variety of questions related to research on specific diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and AIDS. In addition, Senator Murray asked how NIH would fare if Congress fails to pass a final budget before the current “continuing resolution” (CR) expires. Dr. Collins replied NIH is “emboldened by [Congress’s] enthusiasm” for the agency at a critical point for high-profile projects, including the Precision Medicine Initiative and efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine. He added that a long-term CR would be “simply devastating.”
The directors of the National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences also were in attendance. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) asked the directors what they would do if the spending caps were lifted. Responses included expanding clinical trials, supporting more investigator-initiated research, and promoting better career opportunities for young scientists.
Attendees also discussed the NIH strategic plan, which is due to Congress in mid-December. Collins told Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) that the document would clearly explain how the agency establishes research priorities and allocates resources in “greater detail than has been possible before.”