By AMY LOTVEN
Stakeholders are becoming increasingly vocal about the potential economic impact of the 7.8 percent reduction in funding for the National Institutes on Health (NIH)
due to the sequestration slated to take effect on January 1. The coalition United for Medical Research, which includes patient and drug industry groups, released a state-specific report, and the American Heart Association and the American Society of Clinical Oncology also are rallying their members to lobby against the cuts.
Research!America, another coalition of medical research stakeholders, says in a recent report that sequestration would strip a total $3.6 billion from HHS’ research budget, including nearly $2.3 billion from NIH, nearly $445 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $191 million from FDA and $538 million from the National Science Foundation.“We’re urging the entire research community to spread the alarm about sequestration before the unintended scenario becomes the reality that some have estimated will result in a 41% decline in NIH purchasing power since 2004 — and will continue to drive industry to shutter research and development in this country, with losses for jobs, new business development, and ultimately losses for patients,” Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley said in an emailed statement.
According to UMR, the total amount of NIH awards would fall by 1,849 and employees supported by those grants would fall by 33,704. Already, a decrease in NIH funding due to the end of extra income provided by the stimulus legislation has resulted 55,000 fewer jobs in 2011 than the previous year. Other sources have estimated that the cuts would result in $4.5 billion in decreased economic activity.
“Policymakers find themselves at a historic juncture where they must balance the tension between a fragile economic recovery, and the need to reduce the federal deficit,” UMR writes. “At the same time, our nation’s commitment to NIH has been, and must remain, an important factor in bolstering the nation’s economy and driving U.S. global success. It is paramount that Congress preserve NIH funding and prevent an automatic across-the-board spending cut.”
ASCO also notes in recent release that the sequestration cuts could result in NIH issuing between 700 to 2,300 fewer grants. The National Cancer Institute alone would face a cut of almost $400 million, says the group. “Sustaining the nation’s investment in cancer research is critical to our future. We can’t afford to lose ground to a disease that touches nearly every American,” ASCO President Sandra Swain says in a release. “Congress must understand that cuts on the scale being discussed could significantly slow the pace of scientific discovery, hurt local economies and, most important, delay new cancer therapies for thousands of current and future patients,” she adds.
ASCO held a lobby day in the spring and has an action alert out asking members to contact their congressional representatives.
The American Heart Association has been very active on the issue. In November — shortly after the Supercommittee failed to reach a deficit deal thus triggering the sequestration — the AHA circulated a fact sheet outlining the potential impact on jobs, grants and the economy as well as the United States status as a global leader in biomedical research. In June, AHA flew in more than 60 volunteers — including patients, researchers and physicians — from 17 states to speak with several members of Congress. The volunteers met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Denny Rehrberg (R-MN), the lead appropriators for HHS. At the same time, AHA activated it’s “You’re the Cure” grassroots network, which sent 17,000 emails urging Congressional members to protect NIH.
AHA has asked its network to continue the work throughout the August recess, by attending town halls, and is also working to develop a website that will highlight how medical research has impacted heart disease and stroke survivors. “Its clear to us that we have to be just as vocal about protecting the NIH as the defense establishment has been about guarding military programs,” AHA President Donna Arnett said. “There is simply too much at stake. We have an obligation to our country, patients and future generations to fund medical research at levels that will improve health, spur innovation and grow our economy,” she said.
The politically influential drug industry, which often uses publicly funded research to develop medicines, has traditionally not weighed in on NIH funding, and a source familiar with the industry expects that will remain the case this year. However, both Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association of America (PhRMA) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization are members of UMR, and several BIO and PhRMA companies are involved with Research! America. BIO also recently posted on its editorial website site an article written by the non-partisan group, FasterCures, which cites deep concerns with the cuts, and urges members of Congress “to identify a solution to sequestration before we see a decline in medical research.”