After President Obama highlighted the importance of innovation and scientific advancement in his State of the Union Address in January, many in the biomedical research community hoped that funding for NIH might be on the rise. However, his proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2013, released in February, calls for holding NIH funding at its current level.

But given the troubled economic times, level funding might be considered a victory. The Office of Management and Budget had asked all departments and agencies last August to submit 2 budgets, with requests 5% and 10% below final 2011 appropriations.

“In a constrained fiscal environment, when the budget for the Department [of Health and Human Services] as a whole is declining, NIH is maintained at the FY 2012 level of $30.9 billion, reflecting a priority for biomedical research as an investment that promises to deliver better health and drive economic growth,” says NIH Director Francis Collins, MD.

NIH aims to support 9,415 new and competing research project grants in FY 2013, 672 more than in FY 2012. To do so, inflationary allowances for competing and continuation grants would be discontinued and noncompeting continuation grants would be trimmed by 1%. (To put this in perspective, NIH estimated the rate of biomedical research inflation at 2.8% in 2011.) Moreover, awards totaling $1.5 million or more to any principal investigator would receive “additional scrutiny and review.”

Like NIH overall, the National Cancer Institute is essentially level-budgeted at $5.1 billion.

One priority for NIH is the new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, described as “the nation's hub for catalyzing innovations in translational science.” Its proposed $639 million budget is an 11% rise from FY 2012 funding.

Congress won't rubberstamp the President's proposals nor make final decisions on spending any time soon; Washington insiders don't expect to have a budget in place until after November's presidential election. Until then, advocates will continue to press for additional research funding. Says Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley, “Such things can happen even against what seem like very difficult odds.”

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