Chair DeLauro Statement at FY 2022 Budget Request for the National Institutes of Health Hearing

2021-05-25 10:50

House Appropriations Committee Chair and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) delivered the following remarks at the subcommittee's hearing on the FY 2022 Budget Request for the National Institutes of Health.

I want to acknowledge Ranking Member Cole and all of our colleagues for joining this morning. And I want to thank you to our witnesses for testifying.  

Good morning, Dr. Collins. Welcome back to the Labor, HHS, Education appropriations subcommittee.

I would also like to welcome the five Institute directors joining Dr. Collins today:

  • Dr. Diana Bianchi, Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development;
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases;
  • Dr. Gary Gibbons, Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute;
  • Dr. Ned Sharpless, Director of the National Cancer Institute; and
  • Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

I want to note that I intend to invite an additional panel of Institute and Center (IC) directors to testify in front of the subcommittee later this year. We were not able to hold a second panel last year due to the pandemic, but I want to make sure the subcommittee hears from every institute about its promising research.

The last time Dr. Collins and the IC directors were here to testify on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget was March 4, 2020. There were 128 newly reported COVID cases that day in the United States, which more than doubled the total number of cases that had been identified to date. Later that day, the House would pass the first COVID supplemental bill, which included over $800 million to support NIH on basic research, diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines for COVID-19.

Today, over 14 months later, the Congress has provided over $4.8 billion to support NIH research related to COVID. Based in part on these investments and the partnerships with other agencies and the private sector, three COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time and are now widely available in the United States and nearly 300 million vaccine doses have been administered, including nearly 4 million in my home state of Connecticut.

In my view this is a remarkable achievement, made possible not only by targeted investments in COVID research, but also by the annual, sustained investments in biomedical research made by this committee in recent years. In the 20 years before the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) invested over $650 million in basic research on coronavirus, and in particular on the spike protein that is the target of coronavirus vaccines. This crucial breakthrough allowed researchers at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center to rapidly generate a stabilized spike protein for use in developing the COVID-19 vaccines in use today. In addition, NIH has also made substantial investments into mRNA technology and its potential use in vaccines and therapeutics which was essential to the rapid development of COVID vaccines.

I call your attention to an article that was November of 2020 and I’ll just give you the title: Government Funded Scientists Laid the Groundwork for Billion Dollar Vaccines. And I mention this because I think it’s critical in what this committee is able to accomplish and also what our scientists at the NIH with the federal funds are able to accomplish.

Quite frankly it is such a relief to millions of Americans to finally have access to the COVID vaccine. In Connecticut a couple of weeks ago we had a FEMA mobile vaccination clinic open on the New Haven Green. A family with two teenagers was there to get their vaccines. Their father, Roberto, said that he wanted his daughter Sophia and son Diego to get vaccinated as soon as possible to avoid the risk of their contracting COVID and spreading it to the youngest of their younger sisters who is only four years old. After receiving her shot Sophia, who is 16, said, “Now I’m vaccinated it means that I won’t be afraid to get COVID-19 as much as I was before.” Can you imagine being a 16-year-old and fearing for your life and the health of your family? Thanks to the vaccine, Sophia and her brother can finally stop living in fear and get back to being normal teenagers.

This is just one of the many stories of how the COVID vaccine has made such an immeasurable difference in our lives. None of it would have been possible without the increased funding the Congress has consistently provided for the NIH. I am proud that we have increased NIH funding by $12.9 billion, 42 percent, over the past six years. And this support has been bipartisan from this subcommittee. Last year, the Congress provided an additional $1.25 billion increase over the fiscal year 2020 level for the NIH.

I am pleased to see that President Biden’s budget requests to continue the momentum in fiscal year 2022. The request proposes an increase of about $2.5 billion to expand funding for NIH’s core activities such as research grants, clinical trials, and infrastructure support. The request also proposes to establish a new Advanced Projects Research Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, to accelerate the development of treatments and cures.

I am especially glad to see that the budget proposes increased investments in research on maternal health to address the crisis of maternal mortality in the US. Maternal mortality is such a major problem and an issue I have been working on for quite some time as have so many of my colleagues. I also look forward to further details about how the budget proposal will support research on how to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes and improve maternal mental health. In that vein, I am grateful that this budget proposes increased funding for research into other health and mental health disparities that are disproportionately affecting underrepresented communities. As I have often said, these issues have been further exposed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and, as Dr. Collins says so eloquently in his written testimony, is “forcing a recognition that our country is still suffering the consequences of centuries of racism.”

I was also glad to see that the budget doubles funding for research on gun violence prevention at the NIH, building off of the investments this subcommittee has made over the past two years. I am interested in getting a progress report on the funded project and any potential evaluation you may have. I know it may be too early but I hope you can let us know a little more about the status of this program.

I might add that I am intrigued by the proposal to establish ARPA-H, as it appears to be a novel approach to supporting innovation to address problems in health and medical research. I look forward to learning more about this proposal and I want to emphasize that it is critical that we strike a balance between this new approach and investments in basic research and fundamental discovery at NIH. As I noted earlier, the Congress and this subcommittee has consistently provided funding for basic research at NIH that was integral in setting the stage for the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines. As we move forward, I think it will be important to balance the promise of this new approach with a continued commitment to basic research. One of my priorities on the Labor-HHS bill has been to ensure a strong across-the-board increase for NIH research, so that we continue to invest in all areas of research instead of limiting new investments to a few of the most high-profile diseases.

I am disappointed that research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has not been mentioned as a potential area of focus for ARPA-H, and I hope to learn more about how NIH proposes to make decisions about how best to target ARPA-H funding. I am also curious to hear more about how ARPA-H would differ from existing NIH centers and programs that support high-risk/high-reward research, such as the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). I realize that because the administration’s full budget has not yet been released, Dr. Collins, you cannot provide all of the details on the NIH request today, but I believe we can have a good discussion on the priorities that have been announced, and we look forward to receiving the full NIH request in a few days.

117th Congress