BUSH PROPOSES RECORD BUDGET FOR NIH 



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27 Dec 2002

Source: Washington Post, January 26, 2002.

Bush Proposes Record $27.3 Billion Budget for NIH

$1.5 Billion Aimed At Bioterrorism

By Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer

President Bush will propose spending a record $27.3 billion to fund the National Institutes of Health in 2003, enough to complete a five-year doubling of the agency's budget that began in 1998 and to jumpstart a major new NIH emphasis on bioterrorism, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced yesterday.

The proposal, which will be submitted to Congress next month, amounts to an increase of $3.7 billion, or almost 16 percent, over the current year's $23.6 billion NIH budget. It would be the largest dollar increase in the agency's history and a much bigger percentage expansion than the low-single-digit percentage increases most government agencies are anticipating.

Fully $1.5 billion is earmarked for bioterrorism research -- five times more than the current $300 million -- most of it going to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). All told, the NIH budget would fund almost 36,000 research grants, a record number, Thompson said.

"The President could not be clearer about his commitment to medical research, the scientific enterprise and the value of NIH and its work," Thompson said in a statement.

The release was one of several in recent days highlighting proposed administration budget increases and, according to critics, notably overlooking parts of the budget that are expected to take the brunt of upcoming cuts.

Some patient groups expressed frustration that more than half of the NIH increase has been set aside by the White House for just two areas of research, bioterrorism and cancer. But several advocates for medical research said they were generally pleased with the figures.

"We're thrilled that the president has kept his commitment to complete the doubling on schedule," said Kevin Mathis, executive director of the Washington-based Campaign for Medical Research. "It's a very tight budget and the president had made NIH one of his top priorities. It's a great testament to the fact that NIH does phenomenal work and the opportunities for curing diseases are huge."

Reflecting the Bush family's strong personal interest in cancer -- the president's sister died of leukemia in 1953 and Bush's parents have funded an endowment at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston -- the budget allocates $5.5 billion for "cancer-related spending," an increase of almost 13 percent over the current level of $4.9 billion. That money would be spent in many of NIH's 27 institutes and centers, not just at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Bush had promised in a September 2000 campaign speech to raise the NCI budget to $5.1 billion (current funding is $4.2 billion). But sources familiar with this year's budget process said NIH directors, many of whom oversee cancer research in their own institutes, complained bitterly about the prospect of such a focused increase within that one institute -- whose directorship Bush recently filled with an oncologist from MD Anderson.

Thompson did not release specific NCI figures yesterday, but the announcement that cancer-related spending will total $5.5 billion across all of NIH suggests that the NCI budget will fall short of the September campaign promise level.

By far the biggest new bundle of money for NIH is pegged for bioterrorism work, which will be overseen by NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, the increasingly visible government bioterror expert who has been mentioned repeatedly in recent months as a prime candidate to fill the long-vacant NIH directorship.

Fauci conceded yesterday that the $1.5 billion infusion will be a bit of a challenge for the institute to absorb. But he said he and the administration have been planning the endeavor for some months and he anticipated the money would be put to work quickly.

"It's a lot of money we've been entrusted with by the people, and we're going to deliver," Fauci said. The plan is to continue to conduct basic research on disease-causing organisms, he said, but to focus as well on the rapid development of practical tools, such as new diagnostic tests, medicines and vaccines -- in many cases in collaboration with private partners.

Some of the money will be used to construct a new bioterrorism research building on NIH's Bethesda campus. In addition, high-security labs for research on extremely infectious organisms will be built in Frederick and at the institute's Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana.