The NIH has lost $6.3 billion
from its budget over the last decade.
(calculated using the Biomedical
Research and Development Price Index
Most federally funded research projects are not as large as the
Human Genome Project, and the estimated 141-fold return on
investment is hard to match, but in the aggregate the $30 billion of
NIH-sponsored research in 2010 is estimated to have supported
close to a half a million jobs and to have spawned an additional
$69 billion in economic activity (118). As our Nation seeks to
recover from a long recession and a period of high unemployment,
cutting funding to a proven economic generator is simply poor
Some research advances have led to new interventions that can
balance rising health care costs by avoiding needless treatments.
One such technology is FDG-PET imaging, which improves staging
and reduces unnecessary surgeries for Hodgkin’s disease (119).
Another example is molecular diagnostic tests that predict which
patients are unlikely to suffer a cancer recurrence and can safely
forego costly treatment (120). Continued application of our growing
knowledge will undoubtedly expand on these examples and provide
additional opportunities for cost savings and improved health.
Dwindling Research Budget and Threats
of Drastic Cuts Threaten Progress for
At a time of constrained budgets, scarce federal dollars must be
invested wisely. Funding cancer research and biomedical science
through the NIH and NCI is a wise choice that will improve both
America’s health and prosperity, and supporting these agencies
should remain a top priority. However, in practical terms, the NIH
budget has been steadily shrinking since 2003 due to biomedical
inflation (Fig. 23). In fact, the NIH has lost nearly 20% of its ability
to fund live-saving research over the past decade.
While the erosion of the NIH budget has been a slow and chronic
problem, we face an acute challenge as 2013 begins. Because of
budgetary deficits, an automatic budget-cutting action known as a
“sequester” (see Sidebar on Sequestration p. 85) will occur
beginning on January 2, 2013 if Congress does not take action to
avert this crisis. The sequestration is slated to cut all federal
discretionary budgets, which includes the NIH, by approximately
8%. A cut of this magnitude would have an adverse effect on every
aspect of the NIH, sparing no Institute, Center or program from an
immediate substantial reduction in funding.
In testimony before Congress, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D.,
Ph.D. described sequestration’s effect on the NIH as potentially
Figure 23: A Bleak Outlook for the NIH Budget in FY 2013. The outlook for the NIH budget is not promising, as of August 2012. The current
fiscal year (FY) 2012 NIH budget is $30.6 billion, having peaked in FY2010. The President’s Budget Proposal and a House-passed measure would
provide flat funding for FY2013, whereas the current Senate proposal would provide a $100 million increase. It is likely that Congress will pass a
Continuing Resolution to temporarily hold the budget at FY2012 levels. If sequestration is not averted by Congressional action, the NIH will suffer a
drastic cut, reducing its budget to $28.2 billion, reverting back to levels seen in 2004 (see Sidebar on Sequestration, p. 85).