NIH Director Francis Collins: Medical research at risk


From his perch at the National Institutes of Health’s sprawling campus in Bethesda, Md., Director Francis Collins is eyeing the impending sequestration cuts warily.

If lawmakers don’t find a way to blunt the across-the-board cuts, the government’s premier medical research center will lose 6.4 percent of its budget — a cut Collins calls a “profound and devastating blow” for medical research at a time of unprecedented scientific discovery.

That means belt-tightening for NIH’s 27 institutes and centers, a drawback in the grants available for researchers across the country and ultimately, slower progress for treatments for cancer and other hot-button diseases, he says.

“There’s no sort of lever you can pull and all of a sudden, everything will be fine if you lose in one fell swoop 6.4 percent of your budget — which is what will happen on March 1 if nothing is done to prevent that,” Collins told POLITICO in an interview on Monday.

NIH is not alone in fretting over sequestration, of course. Virtually every domestic and national security function is facing across-the-board cuts if Congress doesn’t act, and agency heads throughout the federal government are trying to figure out where to cut.

But scientists had already been fretting about the growth of funding for their medical research.

NIH swallowed a 1.5 percent cut in 2011 after nearly a decade of incremental budget increases. Its funding has expanded at a slower pace since 2004 after surging from 1998 to 2003, when Congress nearly doubled the center’s budget.

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