Trump's $6 Billion NIH Budget Cuts and How It Might Affect Clinical Research

The U.S. Government funds nearly 60 percent of all scientific research, with grants coming largely from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). More than 80 percent of NIH grants are competitive, with almost 50,000 grants going to some 300,000 researchers in universities and laboratories.

The Trump Administration's budget for 2018 cuts $6 billion, or almost 20 percent, from the NIH budget. In addition, 27 NIH subunits would be reorganized. The Fogarty International Center, which coordinates research with other countries, would be eliminated, and the independent Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality would be added directly to NIH.

The administration’s proposed NIH budget could signal large cuts to biomedical research funding for the basic scientific efforts that result in breakthroughs in treating various diseases. Besides worrisome cuts to medical research, less controversial cuts would cost the Department of Energy's Office of Science $900 million, with deep reductions for the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well.

"A $ 6 billion cut to NIH is unacceptable to the scientific community and should be unacceptable to the American public as well,” says Benjamin Corb of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “President Trump's fiscal year 2018 spending plan erases years' worth of bipartisan support for the NIH and the American biomedical research enterprise, which has long been the global leader for biomedical innovation. Cuts this deep threaten America's ability to remain a leader." 

"Drastic cuts to the NIH budget run counter to the priorities of our nation, national security and the aspirations of Americans," adds Mary Wooley of the non-profit Research America.

These initial budget proposals are probably not the final word. Congress knows that the constituency for medical research is vast, compared to that for environmentalism or the DOE. Trump advisor Newt Gingrich is an admirer of the NIH, as are key GOP senators Ray Blunt of Missouri and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, along with Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

The three senators helped to encourage Congress to take an initial step in boosting funding for NIH with a $2 billion increase in fiscal 2016. While the Senate endorsed another $2 billion increase in the current fiscal year that runs through September 30, Congress has not yet finished work on this year’s spending measures, and Trump’s budget plan could mean that there will be no additional funding for the agency.

NIH had lost 22 percent of its capacity to fund research projects because of budget cuts, sequestration and inflationary losses between fiscal 2003 and 2015. The agency had to reduce its grant-making and other research activity significantly.

On March 15 Blunt said, "The president's budget is the first step in the appropriations process. There are many concerns with non-defense discretionary cuts. Over the next several weeks we'll be holding hearings with Cabinet secretaries and others involved to determine funding priorities for 2018."

Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer (www.schneiderthewriter.com), a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. She has edited or written for numerous technical publications, as well as serving as a publicist for various medical, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.