Date: April 1st, 2005
Despite scientific evidence that a cure for Parkinson’s disease could be near – perhaps no more than five years away – the National Institutes of Health was recently unable to initiate clinical trials to test four new Parkinson’s drugs.
The NIH also found itself unable to launch a clinical trial network to test new therapies for age-related macular degeneration, and had to postpone the production and clinical testing of four potential pandemic influenza vaccines by at least a year. Advances in medical research supported by the NIH are being crippled by a budgetary crisis.
Why funding NIH appropriately is critical to our nation’s health
The National Institutes of Health is our government’s primary agency dedicated solely to performing and supporting biomedical research. The agency employs its own scientists and offers support to others through grants and contracts.
For years, the NIH has enjoyed bipartisan support as members of both parties recognized the indisputable value of the agency’s leadership. In 1999, Congress committed to doubling the NIH budget in five years. This wise commitment to our country’s health resulted in significant medical advances.
During the five-year boom, scientists – most of whom were funded by the NIH – discovered genes that may be involved in the development of schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. NIH researchers also identified a gene that increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30 percent. This research shed new light on possible ways to test for and prevent these diseases.
In his testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Health Committee on Energy and Commerce, NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni said, "We are on the cusp of an era of medical practice that will identify and prevent diseases before the symptoms appear."
This exciting promise from the future is rooted in the successes of the past. Historically, NIH-supported research has helped to dramatically lower the death rate from heart disease and stroke and prevent infectious diseases such as rubella and whooping cough.
As public health concerns change, the NIH adapts its research priorities to address them. We are living longer and enjoying healthier lives because of our ever-increasing understanding of how our bodies work and how we contract – and in turn, fight - disease.
Investing in medical research will reduce health care costs
About half of what our nation spends on health care is related to four diseases of aging: cardiovascular disease, neurological disease, cancer, and diabetes. In the next ten years, annual health care spending is projected to outpace the nation’s economic growth. The cost of long-term care is expected to triple in the coming years.
Through advancements in medical research that targets these diseases, we could rein in the costs that are currently spiraling out of control. We are facing a health care crisis as our nation ages, yet we are cutting back on our commitment to understanding the enemy.
Since the end of the doubling period in 2003, the NIH has been dealt a budgetary blow. President Bush’s 2006 budget request contained only a 0.7% increase to $28.8 billion. According to the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI), this is the third year in a row that the NIH budget has not even kept pace with inflation.
In the past, when presented with such a paltry budget request for NIH, Congress has taken a leadership role and increased it. But during the last budget process, Congress actually approved less funding than the president requested.
According to the BRDPI, the NIH budget would need to grow at least 3.5%, or about $1 billion, simply to grow at the rate of inflation. To actually meet the healthcare needs of our aging population, the NIH budget needs to increase by at least 6% over 2005.
The advancement of new screenings, treatments and even cures is directly affected by our government’s commitment to developing them. When the NIH has the funds to do its work, medicine advances and we live longer, healthier, more productive lives. When medical research is sacrificed for other financial priorities, an entire population suffers.
A new era of preventive medicine and more reasonable health care costs is within our reach. Now is not the time to pull back. We must renew our commitment to funding the NIH at a level that fully supports the promise of medical research.