Health Subcommittee Examines NIH Reform and Funding Priorities

June 21, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - The Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), today held a hearing to examine the National Institutes of Health, including a look at its funding priorities and its progress implementing reforms. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins provided insight into the implementation of the National Institutes of Health Reform Act of 2006, the work of the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS), as well as the identification of research and funding priorities.

”Americans take great pride in the work of NIH whose roots date back to 1887,” said Pitts. “During that time, NIH has been in the forefront of biomedical discoveries that have revolutionized the field of medicine, including deciphering the genetic code and finding treatments and cures for so many diseases. More than 80 Nobel prizes have been awarded for NIH-supported research. Faced with so many good causes, I appreciate Dr. Collins’ input into how NIH identifies the highest priorities in biomedical research and then uses the review process to fund the best research.”

The NIH Reform Act of 2006, authored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), capped the number of institutes and centers and created the Scientific Management Review Board as well as the Common Fund, which was created to advance cutting edge multi-institute research. Additionally, it reformed the Institute’s reporting and increased transparency to ensure taxpayer dollars would be spent effectively and wisely.

Dr. Collins testified, “We have increased transparency with online research inventories and portfolio databases. And we have worked closely with the Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB), instituted by the Reform Act, which has proven an effective advisor for providing expert advice about NIH’s organization, management, and performance.

”The Act also authorized the Common Fund, which includes programs from the former NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, to support this innovative research.  The Common Fund was developed to change the way research is conducted - the way investigators approach their work, the tools they use, and the data and resources that are available to them. As the first Roadmap programs are reaching their tenth and final year, payoffs are beginning to be realized and the academic research culture has changed as investigators now routinely embrace interdisciplinary, multi-investigator-led projects,” said Dr. Collins.

NCATS has launched a pilot program in collaboration with eight pharmaceutical companies to study older drugs and research their potential for treating other conditions. Dr. Collins testified that through this pilot program NCATS will be able to “conduct and support research to develop enhanced methodologies and approaches in translational science that can be used by other NIH Institutes and centers, academia, industry, and other sciences.”

During the hearing, members expressed concern regarding NIH’s funding priorities on certain diseases, specifically, why some disease research has lower relative funding when its potential burden is comparably high. In an exchange with Rep. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Dr. Collins testified that funding shifts are continually being evaluated but are “driven by scientific opportunities.”
 

Click here to watch the exchange

Pitts concluded, “Americans expect us to spend their tax dollars wisely. It is therefore very important that we set good priorities. The subcommittee will continue to evaluate and oversee the Institute to ensure proper stewardship of these funds.”