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The ASBMB’s policy analyst, André Porter, discusses this week’s oversight hearing held by the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education subcommittee regarding advances in biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health.
Congress’ recent approval of a $2 billion increase to the NIH budget was viewed as a significant victory for the scientific community. This was especially apparent considering President Donald Trump’s call for massive cuts to the NIH’s budget in his 2017 budget proposal. Despite the increase in 2017 funding, the 2018 appropriations process may prove to be a tough battle for the nation’s premier biomedical research agency. Next week, Trump is expected to release a more detailed version of his 2018 budget proposal. NIH sources are predicting a call for even steeper cuts to the NIH budget than previously reported. Additionally, the administration is expected to push for a 10 percent cap on NIH funding indirect costs, leaving researchers at an even greater financial disadvantage, as researchers would be forced to use grant money in areas other than research. However, it is imperative for the scientific community to take this news with the largest grain of salt possible. Despite the White House’s consistent push for severely depleting the nation’s medical research funds, NIH funding is still widely supported on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Many lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, came out against these possible cuts. If the 2017 appropriations process is evidence for what’s to come in 2018, the president’s insistence on slashing the NIH’s budget will, again, not be considered.
Trump reportedly considering new cuts to biomedical research (The Atlantic)
Lawmakers decry Trump plan to slash NIH 2018 budget (ScienceNOW)
NIH funding brings out rare bipartisan support at House hearing (S&P Global Market)
Last year, the Zika virus pandemic caught the public health community off guard and proved that the United States was woefully underprepared for such an event. Since the initial outbreak, the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has been working diligently to study the virus and produce a vaccine. Many of the reported Zika cases outside of the U.S. have occurred in countries stricken by poverty; therefore, the development of an effective, yet affordable, vaccine is essential to combat the spread of this virus worldwide. With mosquito season in the U.S. right around the corner, the NIH is prepared to begin initial human vaccine testing. Despite the unquestioned need for such a vaccine to hit the open market, Sanofi Pasteur, one of the world’s largest vaccine producers and potential owner of exclusive rights to produce and sell the vaccine, has rejected the U.S. Army’s request to set an affordable price for any vaccine it develops. As the U.S. government already has provided Sanofi with $43 million in taxpayer money to develop this vaccine, many lawmakers and advocacy groups are furious with the company’s refusal, further sparking debate on fair pricing of products developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars.
NIH prepares for Zika season (Washington Examiner)
The battle over a fair price for Zika vaccines (Scientific American)