Trump tries again to reduce NIH budget, spares FDA from cuts

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The proposed 7% cut in National Institutes of Health spending is small compared to the reductions put forward in previous years. (Pixabay)

President Donald Trump has again proposed (PDF) to reduce the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Trump, who has seen his previous attempts to cut NIH’s spending rebuffed by Congress, took a softer line on the FDA, which is set to get a small budget bump if the president’s plan is enacted. 

U.S. budget negotiations in the Trump years have followed a fairly consistent pattern. Trump gets the process going with a budget proposal that calls for a significant reduction in spending at the NIH and other government agencies. Congress then takes a different path, voting in favor of extra spending at the NIH, the FDA and other scientific bodies. 

The first step in the 2021 budget process is following that pattern. Trump’s proposal calls for a 7% cut in the NIH budget that would reduce its spending power by close to $3 billion. 

As the most costly line item on the NIH’s budget, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) would take the biggest hit in dollar terms under Trump’s plan. Trump wants to cut the NCI’s budget by $559 million. That works out to around a 9% reduction on the NCI’s budget for 2020. Many other units face cuts of a comparable size, although Trump plans to go easier on some groups including the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The budget calls for some of the money that is available to go into specific initiatives, including the pediatric cancer research program that has been a focus of the scientific side of Trump’s presidency. Other initiatives singled out in Trump’s budget include a $200 million effort to develop a universal flu vaccine.

In contrast to the cuts at the NIH, the FDA is set to a gain bigger budget if Congress falls into line with Trump’s proposal. The Trump budget proposes giving the FDA 4% more money to play with in 2021, although the increase at the human drugs unit is limited to below 3%. Increases in prescription and generic drug user fees will support the growth of the FDA budget.

Whether any of the proposed changes come to pass remains to be seen. Trump has proposed cutting the NIH’s budget for four years in a row but has consistently been rebuffed by a Congress bent on spending more on science. The 7% cut in NIH spending proposed in the 2021 budget is small compared to the reductions put forward in previous years.

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