DeLauro statement at hearing on NIH 2017 budget request
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I want to welcome Dr. Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, as well as Dr. Lowy, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Hodes, and Dr. Volkow – thank you all for being here this morning to discuss the 2017 budget request for NIH.
The NIH is the leading biomedical research entity in the world. With each scientific discovery, each medical breakthrough, its research advances human knowledge, improves our quality of life, and saves lives.
Funding this research has the power to do more good for more people than almost anything else within the purview of government. Last year, we were able to provide a significant increase of $2 billion for the NIH. I want to thank Chairman Cole – and all of the members of the subcommittee – for their bipartisan work to support NIH research.
The additional funds are helping the NIH accelerate research to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and helping them move forward with exciting new programs like the Precision Medicine Initiative and the BRAIN Initiative.
I must say, however, that I was disappointed to learn that funding for HIV/AIDS research is not increasing in FY 2016. In its 2016 budget request, the NIH had proposed an additional $100 million for HIV/AIDS research to advance its work on a universal vaccine to prevent HIV infection. I think it is a mistake to change course, and I hope to see NIH support that research this year.
The NIH plays an integral role in responding to emerging public health threats. In 2014, as Ebola raged in West Africa, the NIH accelerated its work to create an Ebola vaccine. More recently, the NIH has been working to develop a vaccine to address the looming Zika crisis, which poses an urgent and serious threat to pregnant women and their babies. I look forward to hearing from Dr. Fauci about the current status of Ebola vaccine candidates, as well as progress on moving Zika vaccine candidates toward clinical trials.
Some of my colleagues have expressed a desire to shift unobligated funds that Congress provided for Ebola to respond to Zika. I strongly oppose that idea. I would be anxious to know what activities we would have to forgo if we shift funds away from Ebola to Zika. We need to be able to respond to multiple public health threats at the same time. That is why this Congress and last Congress, I proposed funding the Public Health Emergency Fund to enable the federal government to immediately respond to public health threats.
I would also urge the NIH to use its statutory authority to respond to the rising costs of prescription drugs. As you know, when taxpayer funded federal research results in a drug patent, the NIH may require the patent holder to license the resulting intellectual property to third parties, resulting in competition that drives down drug prices. It is outrageous that drugs invented under taxpayer-funded grants can cost sick Americans hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a year.
I must note that while the NIH is now funded at $32.1 billion thanks to the $2 billion increase, funding has not kept pace with the rising cost of biomedical research. The NIH’s FY 2016 funding level remains $7.5 billion below the FY 2003 level adjusted for biomedical inflation.
Fifteen years ago, the NIH funded about one-in-three meritorious research proposals—but today, that rate has fallen to about one-in-five, a slight improvement over recent years but still low by historical standards. We are missing opportunities to work toward cures for life-altering diseases affecting far too many people.
That brings us to the topic of today’s discussion: the 2017 budget request. There is a lot of good in this proposal. I applaud the ambitious proposal to increase cancer research by $680 million in FY 2017. As a 30-year survivor of ovarian cancer, I know that I am alive today because of the grace of God and the hard work of biomedical researchers.
I am also pleased to see proposed increases of $100 million and $45 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative and the BRAIN Initiative, respectively. These initiatives have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of disease, as well as our understanding of long-term physical and mental health.
I think we can do even better. This budget is clearly constrained by sequestration and arbitrarily low budget caps. As I said earlier, I think we need to boost spending for HIV/AIDS research, and not relent until we have developed a universal vaccine. This would save countless lives, as well as also save billions of dollars in treatment costs in future years.
We need to continue to develop new antibiotics, or risk the devastating consequences of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to our public health and our entire health care system.
I want to note my concern over mandatory funding for the NIH in this budget. It is the responsibility of this Committee to fund the NIH. An increase to this subcommittee’s allocation is the straightforward and responsible way to support NIH research, rather than rely on mandatory funding that will not materialize. We should also continue to uphold the longstanding tradition of scientific independence in setting the federal research agenda, rather than override scientific judgement with congressional preferences.
I introduced a bill last year that would enable our committee to increase NIH funding by 50 percent over 5 years by providing a cap adjustment. That would ensure proper funding for research without robbing other vital programs to do so.
Thank you again for everything you do. Biomedical research is one of the most important investments a country can make – it gives the gift of life. We must find a way to support it.