NIH director Francis Collins [via Getty Images]

'Dra­mat­ic times': How did an $8B surge in NIH grants over five years change re­search on the ground (if at all)?

Ebo­la. Sick­le cell dis­ease. Spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy. Cys­tic fi­bro­sis.

Be­hind each dis­ease was a med­ical break­through that Fran­cis Collins high­light­ed at the con­gres­sion­al hear­ing on the pres­i­dent’s 2021 NIH bud­get re­quest, a year­ly op­por­tu­ni­ty to up­date law­mak­ers on his agency’s progress and pri­or­i­ties. Thanks to three decades of re­search that dates in part back to his own NIH-backed work at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, for in­stance, the US has ush­ered in its first triple ther­a­py for cys­tic fi­bro­sis last year.

“These are dra­mat­ic times for NIH re­search,” the di­rec­tor con­clud­ed.

Bol­ster­ing the burst in new sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­ery and ther­a­peu­tic de­vel­op­ment has been an im­pres­sive growth in NIH fund­ing. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump may be propos­ing to cut its bud­get down 7% next year, but over the past five years it has in­creased by $11.6 bil­lion, or 39%, ac­cord­ing to Rep Rosa De­Lau­ro, chair of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee on La­bor, Health & Hu­man Ser­vices and Ed­u­ca­tion. That has trans­lat­ed to a $8 bil­lion boost to the to­tal amount of grants award­ed be­tween 2014 and 2019, per NIH dis­clo­sure.

“The steady in­creas­es you have pro­vid­ed have brought new life to bio­med­ical re­search and built the foun­da­tion for us to take on new and un­ex­pect­ed chal­lenges,” Collins said, “chal­lenges like the one that’s on every­one’s mind right now: the glob­al coro­n­avirus out­break.”

What does this new life look like on the ground? End­points News spoke to re­searchers, ad­min­is­tra­tors and ad­vo­cates, who point­ed to dif­fer­ent met­rics that ei­ther mea­sure out­put or the en­vi­ron­ment that sci­en­tists find them­selves work­ing in. The con­ver­sa­tions sug­gest while the in­creas­es — which fol­lowed years of stag­na­tion — did pump more re­sources in­to trans­la­tioal re­search, they didn’t quite solve the chal­lenges ba­sic sci­ence still faces.

Endpoints News

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