Director speaks to National Cancer Advisory Board about NCI programs and federal funding prospects
At the recent meeting of the National Cancer Advisory Board, National Cancer Institute Director Harold Varmus assessed the direction of the national cancer research program and notably expressed his grave concerns about the funding outlook for the institute.
Although Congress has yet to finalize the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding level for fiscal year 2011, Varmus indicated that he is bracing for flat funding, or worse, severe cuts for the NCI in the future.
He stated his intention to sustain the same number of new grant awards in FY2011 as was awarded in each of the past two years—around 1,250—but warned that funding decisions made in Congress will largely affect the NCI’s ability to meet that goal, as doing so will require an additional $75 to $150 million above current levels. Varmus said his top concern will be the number of grants made, more so than about the percentages of grants funded from applications submitted or minimum scores that proposals must receive to be funded. If Congress does not provide the needed appropriations, he added, funds may be taken out of other existing NCI programs.
Regarding contemplations on Capitol Hill among Republicans about slashing federal funding to FY2008 levels next year, Varmus said such action would have “lethal” consequences--reducing the NCI’s budget by as much a $300 million.
Varmus remarked on the ongoing work of the NIH Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB), which recently issued a somewhat controversial proposal to merge the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse into an institute focused on substance abuse and addiction. Although the transfer of NCI’s tobacco portfolio to this new institute was under consideration, Varmus reported that NCI will be retaining the bulk of its tobacco-related research.
The SMRB had also proposed changes to the National Center for Research Resources and specifically the Clinical and Translational Science Awards, with the possible creation of a center on translational medicine and therapeutics. According to Varmus, no portion of NCI would be transferred to the new translational science entity.
Varmus also expressed support for a new financing arrangement under development that would place the NIH Clinical Center under the NIH director’s budget.
The next meeting of the NCAB is scheduled for Feb. 7-9, 2011.
Read more from the December Edition of the AACR Cancer Policy Monitor: