NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni Speaks to the National Advisory Eye Council

NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni Speaks to the National Advisory Eye Council

Legislative Update
June 9, 2006

On June 8, NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni spoke at a meeting of the National Advisory Eye Council, the federal advisory body to the National Eye Institute (NEI), in a presentation entitled NIH Budget: Facing A Perfect Storm. This title refers to the confluence of factors that are reducing NIH’s budget and associated purchasing power, including competition for funds due to defense/homeland security requirements, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Congressional efforts to increase physical science funding, as well as the impact of the biomedical research inflation rate, projected at 3.8 percent for Fiscal Year (FY) 2007.

To place into context NIH funding challenges, Dr. Zerhouni corrected several “NIH budget myths” often heard on Capitol Hill, noting that:

  • Despite claims of an emphasis on translational science at the expense of basic science, NIH’s FY2007 investment in basic research will be 56 percent of budget, with clinical/translational research accounting for 40 percent of budget, which represents a relatively stable rate over the past 10 years.
  • NIH is committed to investigator-initiated research, with unsolicited grants far outnumbering solicited grants, the latter being less than 10 percent of budget.
  • The NIH Roadmap for Medical Research reflects only 1.7 percent of the NIH budget in FY2007. He emphasized that the Roadmap is not a single initiative but represents hundreds of individual awards for basic, translational and high-risk research that address cross-cutting NIH research. Roadmap management has recently been moved to the newly-created Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives (OPASI) in the Office of the Director, which will manage all trans-Institute research going forward.

Dr. Zerhouni also identified three major “drivers” of the NIH budget challenges, including:

  • Concomitant with the NIH doubling, a growth in the research infrastructure at academic institutions throughout the United States and the dramatic increase in number of tenure-track faculty.
  • A large increase in both applicants and associated grant applications occurring after 2003 (the last year of the NIH budget doubling). In the past ten years, the number of grant applications will have doubled from 24,000 to almost 50,000, while the success rate will have decreased from 31 percent to 19 percent over the same timeframe.
  • Flat-funding in the post-doubling years (FY2004 budget on), which reflects a budget decrease once the biomedical inflation rate is factored in. As a result, NIH’s purchasing power has decreased by 11 percent since the budget-doubling ended.

Dr. Zerhouni concluded by reiterating NIH’s vision for transforming medical research in the 21st century, as presented in April 6 and May 19 testimony before hearings of the House and Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittees, respectively. In defining this new paradigm, he stressed the importance of the predictive, personalized, preemptive and participatory role of healthcare research and delivery. He cited several recent NEI-funded breakthroughs as examples of this new approach and emphasized that these efforts to save and restore vision cost each American about $1.20 per year, for a total of less than $36 for each American over the past 30 years.