Sequester cuts come down heavy on scientific, medical research

Deep, across-the-board federal spending cuts--totaling $85 billion--are set to go into effect today after Congress and President Barack Obama failed to come to an agreement on a deficit reduction plan.

The sequester cuts will no doubt have an impact on scientific and medical research, adding to several years' worth of small cuts and freezes to federal grant funding at government agencies like the National Institutes of Health. NIH, among other research arms of the government, will have to cut its budget by an estimated 5.1% starting today, according to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

"This is really going to jeopardize our ability to accelerate the development of new cancer therapies for the benefit of patients," Jon Retzlaff, managing director of science policy and government affairs for the American Association for Cancer Research, told FierceBiotechResearch in an interview.

Retzlaff said the cuts not only will stifle short-term R&D efforts but could also put the U.S. in danger of falling behind as a worldwide leader in scientific and medical research.

Life sciences-focused financial services firm Burrill & Company released an estimate today saying that, under sequestration, NIH could lose more than $1.6 billion in funding and reduce the number of grants it issues by more than 2,000. The FDA could also lose $318 million in funding and cut hundreds of jobs to adjust to the lower funding level.

"These automatic spending cuts will stop science advances in their tracks and cost highly trained researchers their jobs," said Judith Bond, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), in a statement.

A February analysis by FASEB calculated the impact of NIH cuts on each state. Three states--California, Massachusetts, and New York--could lose more than $100 million each.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology is just one institution bracing for the cuts. In a Scientific American editorial, MIT professor Thomas Levenson said sequestration will deal a $40 million blow to the university's annual research budget. The ax will fall heaviest on MIT's School of Science, which relies on the federal government for 95% of its research budget.

"For at least a large slice of the basic research community, the killing force of the current plan comes from the way it piles on to an already ailing enterprise," Levenson writes.

The FASEB analysis shows that NIH's budget in fiscal year 2012 was $4 billion less than it was in 2003 and is at its lowest level since 2001.

- here's the FASEB analysis
- read the Burrill news release