Bioinformatics projects stall as shutdown stops NIH funding

The government shutdown and subsequent furloughing of staff at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has some obvious, headline-grabbing implications for its trials and research. Yet there are also a host of knock-on effects rippling through the private sector, harming bioinformatics and other fields.

GigaGen CEO David Johnson

San Francisco-based startup GigaGen is one of the companies disrupted by the shutdown. GigaGen recently secured a $1.2 million NIH small business grant to create a cloud-based bioinformatics tool for manipulating immune signature datasets. Now, GigaGen CEO David Johnson is unable to access the funds. And having already hired staff for the project, Johnson is considering whether to use his own cash to start the work.

"That grant is a major part of my cash flow right now, and I can't access the funds. In a small business, we depend on the government to make things happen, especially in challenging fields like biotechnology," Johnson told Nature. GigaGen is one of more than 2,300 organizations listed as having received NIH funds this fiscal year. NIH will already have given out most of these awards, but firms that only had proposals accepted in the past week could face a similar situation to GigaGen's. 

A bill to restore NIH funding made it through a House vote this week, only to be blocked in the Senate. However, even if the bill had passed, research would still have suffered. "Scientific research is not like turning on and off an assembly line. Experiments are frequently long-term and complicated. They involve specific treatments and specific times. You can't just stop and restart it. You've probably just destroyed the experiment," an anonymous government biomedical scientist told Wired.

- read the Nature article
- check out GigaGen's project
- here's Wired's interview
- catch up on the NIH funding bill