Politics, Research Institutes

Why wait? Trump mounts an early raid on NIH’s ’17 budget in search of some spending money

Chanelle Case Borden, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the National Cancer Institute’s Experimental Immunology Branch, checking DNA gel. Gel electrophoresis is a method for separation and analysis of macromolecules (DNA, RNA and proteins) and their fragments, based on their size and charge. Daniel Sone / National Cancer Institute 


President Trump is looking for some extra cash this year. And to get it he’s ready to start slashing NIH funding now, rather than wait until the next budget year gets started.

According to documents making the circuit in DC yesterday, Trump wants to cut $1.2 billion out of NIH research spending. And the full $18 billion he’s looking for includes a $40 million hit at the FDA, according to a report in Bloomberg, where the president would prefer to slow hiring in exchange for some fast spending money.

The new Trump budget for 2018 has already set out a proposal to carve out $5.8 billion in funding at the NIH, which is enjoying its first significant budget increase in years after a bipartisan group of lawmakers joined hands on the initiative.

Trump clearly would like to shift research and non-defense spending to pay for some of his campaign promises around border security. But these cuts are not popular among lawmakers. In biopharma, where the NIH seeds the drug research of the future, along with a considerable amount of translational work, it’s anathema.

John Crowley, the CEO of Amicus and a guest of honor—with his daughter Megan—at Trump’s recent address to Congress, told Axios:

For me as an entrepreneur, it’s all about inventions and healing, and I think NIH plays a crucial role. It’s part of this virtuous circle that it necessary to advance medicines to patients, which also includes the grants that NIH provides to our academic institutions. Our university research system is the core for basic science and basic translational research and is the basis for a lot of the good ideas that come into a company like ours.

The controversy has already inspired the launch of one new lobbying group, the Coalition to Save NIH funding, and a number of lawmakers in both parties say that the cuts are a nonstarter.

That said, with the failure of Trumpcare and the prospect of a new scrap over tax reform, it’s hard to determine who’s running the shop in Washington these days.


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