Proposed NIH budget cuts jeopardize U.S. pipeline of young scientists
Congressional leaders and healthcare experts decried President Donald Trump's plan to slash the National Institutes of Health's budget Wednesday, saying it would prevent the organization from recruiting and retaining young scientists.
NIH, the nation's leading medical research agency, faces more than $7 billion in cuts next year under the Trump administration's budget proposal. That move would decimate research grants and displace young researchers and scientists, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said at a House hearing held by the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Committee Wednesday.
"A roller coaster (funding) model is really destructive both for our trying to plan projects and for people staying in the field career who wonder 'is there a career path for me?' " he told lawmakers.
NIH directly supports 379,000 jobs and indirectly affects 7 million jobs nationwide. Every dollar invested in NIH returns $8.78 over eight years in terms of economic impact, Collins said.
The proposed cuts would result in 5,000 to 8,000 fewer research grants, losses of 90,000 jobs and cause a loss of $15 billion in economic impact, congressional leaders said.
Trump proposed cutting NIH's biomedical research budget by $5.8 billion in fiscal 2018, down 18% from 2017. His administration also suggested cutting $1.23 billion for the rest of this fiscal year.
Congress shot back by adding $2 billion to the organization's budget. Trump's proposed cuts contradicted the efforts of the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, the biomedical research bill approved last year, congressional leaders said.
The U.S. could lose its position on the forefront of medical research if NIH's work is cut down, Collins said.
"Anything that would reduce the inputs from the industry or academia or from NIH would put this country at risk," he said. "China has read our playbook. They want to become us, and I don't blame them. But we should be sure that we're still us."
China is on track to spend more on biomedical research than the U.S. by around 2021, Collins said.
"They are building universities and laboratories and putting a great deal of funds into that and many very talented scientists we used to be quite confident we could recruit and retain in the U.S. now go back to China for wonderful offers," he said.
The NIH is planning to redistribute funds from well-funded investigators to early-stage researchers and scientists who are trying to get started. But that wouldn't be possible without a reliable funding trajectory, Collins said.
The Trump administration lobbied for the private sector to fill the funding gap outlined in the budget proposal. The proposed cuts were targeting the $6.5 billion-plus NIH gave to universities last year for indirect costs, or overhead that supports things such as utility costs, compliance, laboratory upkeep and data storage.
Many universities, particularly smaller public schools, would not be able to participate in the grants without this funding, Collins said.
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