NIH escapes severe funding cuts, for now
Funding for cancer research will be cut back for the remainder of the fiscal year, though it has been spared the drastic cuts many feared.
The last-minute compromise reached by Congress last week over FY2011 spending priorities will fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $30.7 billion, a $260 million reduction (0.8 percent) from current FY2010 levels. The $260 million total cut includes a $210 million reduction in funds spread across all institutes, centers and the Office of the Director; as well as a $50 million cut in funding for buildings and facilities. The cut would amount to an approximately $45 million cut to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reducing its current budget of $5.10 billion to $5.06 billion. In addition to the cuts outlined above, all non-defense, discretionary spending will be subject to a 0.2 percent across-the-board cut. This means the total reduction to NIH funding could be as much as 1 percent.
While any cut represents a setback for NIH, biomedical research fared comparatively well in a budget package that cut nearly $40 billion in federal spending from FY2010 levels. A cut of $260 million is also far less than what the research community had been bracing for, given an earlier bill passed by the House of Representatives that would have cut NIH by $1.6 billion.
Among the programs that will take a more significant hit are those operating under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC is slated for a cut of $800 million, or about 12.5 percent from its current level, which could adversely affect initiatives like cancer screenings for low-income Americans.
Another provision of interest included in the final bill is one that calls for the Government Accountability Office to conduct an audit of money spent on comparative effectiveness research by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality and the NIH. The audit specifically targets the $1.1.billion in funding for this research provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The audit must be completed within 60 days of the bill’s passage.
With its annual meeting falling against the deadline for Congress to finalize the FY2011 spending bill, the AACR took advantage of the timing to raise awareness about the value of federal cancer research dollars and to rally its membership in support of cancer research. Thanks to support from Stand Up To Cancer and calls to action during the meeting from leaders like NCI Director Harold Varmus and former Congressman John Porter, over 13,000 letters and e-mails were sent to Capitol Hill from researchers and cancer advocates in every state and nearly every congressional district in the country.
In the days leading up to the final compromise, there were indications that these efforts, combined with efforts driven by the biomedical research community at large, were resonating as President Obama and other congressional leaders began singling out biomedical and cancer research as a priority worth protecting.
This momentum will need to be sustained, if not redoubled, as Congress shifts gears to debate the FY2012 budget. Cuts to NIH will undoubtedly be on the table once again as lawmakers strive to reduce federal spending.
As the new president of the AACR, one of Dr. Judy Garber's signature initiatives will be to establish a grassroots advocacy network that will leverage the strength of the AACR membership to foster nationwide public and congressional support for cancer research and scientific progress.
The ultimate goal will be to secure at least one AACR member in each of the 435 congressional districts and 50 states willing to serve as a liaison between their members of Congress and the AACR on issues that matter to the cancer research community. Through this united effort, the AACR will be able to reach lawmakers in every corner of the country to help ensure our nation continues making progress toward eliminating cancer, even in challenging fiscal times.
The AACR will educate and provide network members with data and information tailored to their district and state whenever possible, in addition to action alerts and frequent legislative updates. At key times through the year, members will be encouraged to take action by contacting the offices of their delegation, submitting opinion pieces to their local media, or participating in other forms of outreach.
If you are an AACR member wishing to take part in this exciting new initiative, please sign up here for more information.
Read more from the April Edition of the AACR Cancer Policy Monitor: