Senate bill would set NIH budget floor, raise funding over 7 years

aerial view of government building

A decade of flat funding compounded by last year's federal sequester cuts has put U.S. biomedical research in a pinch in recent years, but under a new bill the National Institutes of Health would be spared the budget ax.

The legislation, introduced July 24 in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), would set a minimum budget for NIH. Under the bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee would be required to maintain NIH's current funding level of $29.9 billion. Harkin is the chairman of the subcommittee.

Dubbed the Accelerate Biomedical Research Act, the bill would boost the agency's budget to $46.2 billion over 7 years from 2015 to 2021. The allowance is meant to restore the purchasing power the NIH would have had if funding had kept pace with inflation since 2003, according to a statement by Harkin's office. In 1998, Congress voted to double NIH's budget over the next 5 years until 2003.

The additional funding provides for an initial increase of 10% for each of the first two years, followed by 5% increases for 5 years after that.

Medical advocacy groups like the Alzheimer's Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and United for Medical Research have thrown their support behind the bill, as well as a slew of academic research institutions.

The bill is a timely call to action in light of ongoing financial woes at preeminent research organizations, notably the Scripps Research Institute, which recently ended merger talks with the University of California, San Diego. Scripps has an annual operating budget of $310 million but is reportedly operating this year with a projected $21 million deficit.

- read the text of the bill