Written Testimony of the American Society for Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics
Annette E. Fleckenstein, MS, PhD
American Society for Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics
9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland 20814
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education & Related Agencies
Fiscal Year 2016 Appropriations for the National Institutes of Health
The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) is pleased to submit written testimony in support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) FY 2016 budget. ASPET recommends a FY 2016 NIH budget of at least $32 billion.
Steady and sustained investment in the NIH is critical to improving human health, stimulating state and local economies, and improving the nation’s global competitiveness. We call upon Congress to ensure that the NIH remains a national priority. ASPET appreciates Congressional action in providing NIH-needed increases in the FY 2014 and FY 2015 omnibus appropriations bills. However, these increases did not restore the purchasing power lost to sequestration in FY 2013. From 2003-2013, the NIH budget failed to keep pace with inflation in research costs leading to nearly a 25% reduction in the agency’s purchasing power and a 34% reduction in the primary grant mechanism for supporting investigator-initiated research. A FY 2016 budget of $32 billion would enable the NIH to fund 465 more research grants and help restore the agency’s lost purchasing power that has occurred over the past decade.
Additionally, if funding for the next ten years is similar to that of the past decade, the nation will lose a generation of young scientists. Increasingly, these individuals, seeing no prospects for careers in biomedical research, will leave the research enterprise or look for employment in foreign countries. Not only are jobs increasingly limited in the academic sector, but the health industry too is under significant stress. The “brain drain” of young scientific talent jeopardizes the nation’s leadership in biomedical research. A 2013 survey of ASPET’s own graduate students and post-doctoral researchers revealed that 45% of post-doctoral trainees and 25% of graduate students say they are no longer considering a career in biomedical research due to the restrictive funding environment; 50% of graduate students and 29% of post-doctoral trainees say they are willing to consider leaving the United States to pursue a career in biomedical research.
A $32 billion budget for the NIH in FY 2016 is an important start to help restore NIH’s biomedical research capacity. Currently, the NIH only can fund one in six grant applications, the lowest rate in the agency’s history. Many highly innovative proposals that have important implications for human health go unfunded as a consequence of limited NIH funding.
A budget of at least $32 billion in FY 2016 will help the agency manage its research portfolio more effectively without having to withhold funding for existing grants to researchers throughout the country. Only through steady, sustained and predictable funding increases can NIH continue to fund the highest quality biomedical research to help improve the health of all Americans and continue to make significant economic impact in many communities across the country.
There is no substitute for a steady, sustained federal investment in biomedical research. Industry, venture capital, and private philanthropy can supplement some elements of health research but they cannot replace the investment in basic, fundamental biomedical research provided by NIH. Neither the private sector nor industry will be able to fill a void for NIH-funded basic biomedical research. Much of the research undertaken by industry builds upon the discoveries generated from NIH-funded projects. The majority of the investment in basic biomedical research that NIH provides is broad and long-term, providing a continuous development platform for industry, which would not typically invest in research that may be of higher risk and require several years to fully mature. In addition to this long-term view, NIH also has mechanisms in place to rapidly build upon key technologies and discoveries that have the ability to have significant impact on the health and well being of our citizens.
Many of the basic science initiatives supported by NIH have led to totally unexpected discoveries and insight that have transformed our mechanistic understanding of and our ability to treat a wide range of diseases.
Diminished Support for NIH Will Negatively Impact Human Health
Additional cuts or limited growth in the NIH budget will further reduce NIH’s purchasing power and accelerate the loss of scientific opportunities to discover new therapeutic targets. Without a steady, sustained federal investment in fundamental biomedical research, scientific progress will be slower and potentially helpful diagnostic methods, therapies or cures will not be developed. For example, more research is needed on Parkinson’s disease to help identify the causes of the disease and help develop better therapies. As another example, discovery of gene variations in age-related macular degeneration could result in new screening tests and preventive therapies. More basic research is needed to focus on new molecular targets to improve treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. As yet another example, diminished support for NIH will prevent new and ongoing investigations into rare diseases that the Food and Drug Administration estimates almost 90% are serious or life-threatening.
Historically, our past investment in basic biological research has led to many innovative medicines. The National Research Council reported that of the 21 drugs with the highest therapeutic impact, only five were developed without input from the public sector. The significant past investment in the NIH has provided major gains in our knowledge of the human genome, resulting in the promise of pharmacogenomics and a reduction in adverse drug reactions that currently represent a major worldwide health concern. NIH is the world leader in efforts to prevent and treat HIV-AIDS. Several completed human genome sequence analyses have pinpointed disease-causing variants that have led to improved therapy and cures, but further advances and improvements in technology will be delayed with diminished NIH funding. The evolution of patient care into what has been termed “personalized medicine” or precision medicine and its application to a wide range of clinical disorders requires research to identify and test optimal diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for each individual. Our past support for NIH has revealed new frontiers of immunopharmacology and regenerative medicine which are producing cost savings by reducing in-patient hospital care for debilitative autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and restoring movement and function through regenerative interventions. Furthermore, NIH must continue its support of research to prevent and treat infectious diseases.
Investing in NIH Helps America Compete Economically
A $32 billion budget in FY 2016 will also help the NIH train the next generation of scientists and provide a platform for broader workforce development that is so critical to our nation's growth. While most NIH trainees follow a career path in research, many individuals trained in the sciences through NIH support become educators in high schools and colleges. These individuals also enter into other areas of technology development and evaluation in the public and private sectors further enriching the community and accelerating economic development.
NIH research funding catalyzes private sector growth. More than 83% of NIH funding is awarded to over 3,000 universities, medical schools, teaching hospitals and other research institutions in every state. One national study by an economic consulting firm found that federal (and state) funded research at the nation’s medical schools and hospitals supported almost 300,000 jobs and added nearly $45 billion to the U.S. economy. NIH funding also provides the most significant scientific innovations of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.
Thus, this investment will help to create jobs and promote economic growth. A stagnating NIH budget will mean forfeiting future discoveries and jobs to other countries.
It is a sobering fact that the U.S. share of global research and development investment from 1999-2009 was only 31%, representing a decline of 18%. In contrast, other nations continue to invest aggressively in science. China has grown its science portfolio with annual increases to the research and development budget averaging over 20% annually since 2000. Russia plans to increase support for research substantially over the next decade. The European Union, despite great economic distress among its member nations, has proposed to increase spending on research and innovation by 45% between 2014 and 2020. All of these nations recognize the long-term economic value of scientific research and prioritize their budgets accordingly.
ASPET appreciates the many competing and important spending decisions the Subcommittee must make. However, the NIH’s contribution to the nation’s economic well-being and to the health of our citizens should make it one of the nation’s top priorities. Lawmakers must replace sequestration in 2016 and beyond with a bipartisan, balanced approach to deficit reduction so that vital investments can be made in the best interests of the nation. With enhanced and sustained funding, NIH can begin to reverse its decline and help achieve its potential to address many of the more promising scientific opportunities that currently challenge medicine and affect health care in our country. A budget of at least $32 billion in FY 2016 will be a good first step in allowing the agency to begin moving forward to full program capacity, exploiting more scientific opportunities for investigation, and increasing investigators’ chances of discoveries that prevent, diagnose and treat disease. NIH should be restored to its place as a national treasure, one that attracts and retains the best and brightest to biomedical research and provides hope to millions of individuals afflicted with illness and disease.
ASPET is a 5,100 member professional society, whose members conduct basic, translational, and clinical pharmacological research within the academic, industrial and government sectors. Our members discover and develop new medicines and therapeutic agents that fight existing and emerging diseases, as well as increase our knowledge regarding how therapeutics can be used to improve human health.