Today, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee released a second draft of the 21st Century Cures Act. The original draft was released in January and contained several questionable provisions regarding the National Institutes of Health. The newest draft of the legislation is an improvement. Some of our concerns, including the detailing of a specific number of strategic goals the NIH must pursue (previously Sec. 4001), have been removed. Of note for many young scientists is a section that could help these scientists repay student loans.
However, some troublesome language remains. The Society voiced opposition to Sec. 1041 (previously Sec. 2261) concerning funding young investigators. The source of money for this program would take money from other important research initiatives. In addition, the data concerning the age at which early-stage investigators receive their first NIH research grant is complex, and this provision may not have the desired effect. However, the brackets around the language in this part of the bill suggest that there are ongoing negotiations over the focus of this section.
A new section, Sec. 1061, would institute an emeritus grant award program, or a capstone award program as it is described in the draft bill, similar to what was described in an NIH request for information released earlier this year. This would be an award specifically for senior faculty to help them transition away from bench research. The ASBMB opposed the NIH program for a variety of reasons, and this legislation does very little to assuage the Society’s deep concerns about such an award program.
We will post a more in-depth review of the legislation in the next few days. Follow the ASBMB Policy Blotter to keep up with 21st Century Cures and other science policy news!
UPDATE: The newest version of the legislation would authorize 4.5 percent increases to the NIH budget through fiscal 2018, and it would also create a $2 billion per year “Innovation Fund” that would expire at the end of 2020. While appreciated, it is not clear that these authorizations could become reality in appropriations. Current law severely limits appropriations and it is not clear how these robust increases would be funded.