NIH faces economic strains in 2011

Wednesday - 6/16/2010, 5:47pm EDT

Dr. Francis Collins, director, NIH

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By Rachel Stevens
Federal News Radio

The National Institutes of Health could face some challenges in fiscal 2011.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Health yesterday that the immediate future could be difficult because of poor economic conditions and stimulus funds running dry.

"We are going to be stressed in all kinds of ways trying to maintain the resources and the environment of the researchers who are so critical to our future," Collins said. "Estimates are that our success rates in FY 2011 might fall to historic lows across the board."

But Collins said NIH is involved in a variety of ambitious projects for now.

He said NIH will be working side-by-side with the Department of Health and Human Services to respond to health concerns in the aftermath of the gulf oil spill. NIH is dedicating $10 million to the project, Collins said.

Other new NIH initiatives involve embryonic stem cell research. President Barack Obama issued an executive order last year removing limitations on using federal funds for this purpose.

"[There has been] a significant set of advances in terms of both stem cell lines that are available now for federally-funded researchers and for new projects that NIH has funded… with the president's executive order," Collins said.

For 2009, NIH's stem cell research budget was about $119 million. Collins said he anticipates even more funds dedicated to this project before the end of 2010, but he would not know exactly how much until the fiscal year ended.

Collins also said NIH is attempting to encourage private-sector development of medical advancements through a program called Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases. TRND was created this year to "de-risk" private investments in rare diseases by getting research off the ground with NIH funding.

"For many rare diseases, the economics just aren't going to be sufficient to inspire a company to make the investment in taking something all the way to therapy if there's not already a pretty good idea on the table," Collins said.

He said this would free up the NIH to focus on broader public health concerns without leaving rare conditions unattended to.

Collins's testimony also included NIH's plans for the spending of stimulus money, updates on promising research initiatives, and the creation of new regulations to prevent conflicts of interest in grant-making. (Listen to the entire hearing above.)

Rachel Stevens is an intern at Federal News Radio.

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