KC Business Journal: KC researchers can 'breathe easier' with NIH funding boost
Research by its very nature is all about risk. As the money becomes tighter, people tend to support the things they're familiar with as opposed to a really interesting, brilliant idea that's shaking everything up.
Kansas City-area researchers will be able to compete for more funding — not less, thanks to Congress voting in a $2 billion raise for the National Institutes of Health.
Despite President Donald Trump's proposal to cut the NIH budget by $1.2 billion this fiscal year, Congress reached a bipartisan agreement on Sunday to fund the federal government through September that included the additional money.
"The news of this budget so far is very positive for the entire community," said Tom Curran, executive director of the Children's Research Institute at Children's Mercy. "People are breathing a little bit more easily."
With more certainty in funding, Curran added, he expects to see an uptick in grant applications.
"People were very concerned because they looked at the prospect over the next several years of not being able to maintain their labs, not being able to maintain their employees or their students," he said.
According to the NIH, the metro area received about $77.56 million in grants in 2016. NIH reported $4.09 million in funding to Children's Mercy last year, which has gone to projects such as GOLDILOKS, an effort to provide children with precise dosing. Children's Mercy physicians have been able to apply the tool to leukemia patients receiving transplants and to patients seeking the most effective dose of ADHD medication. Last year, the NIH granted this project just more than $729,000.
"The NIH grant is already creating ripples in the pond. We think that work is going to start influencing at least some of the institutions for which one of the advisers proposed a collaboration," Curran told the Kansas City Business Journal. "It's like you're seeding the field. And eventually those crops are going to sprout and generate even more crops. It just makes so much sense."
Support on both sides
Both Curran and KU Cancer Center Director Dr. Roy Jensen credited local lawmakers with helping support research funding, including Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, who opposed the cuts as chairman of the appropriations committee, and Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., who vowed to fight to cuts before the vote. After the vote, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said in a release that NIH funding "has the capacity to save millions of lives long into the future."
"Historically, the two states have not always agreed on everything, but this is one area where we come together," Curran said.
The boosts to NIH funding through the most recent spending bill and the 21st Century Cures Act in December indicated strong bipartisan support in Congress for biomedical research, Jensen added. But that doesn't necessarily mean smooth sailing for the future.
Despite increases in the past three years, NIH funding still lags inflation. And for 2018, the Trump administration proposed reducing NIH funding by $5.8 billion, a cut of about 20 percent.
"It's clear that an important battle has been won," Jensen said. "That doesn't ensure things will keep going as they have been for the last three years."
More opportunities ahead
Just 12 to 14 percent of project applications are funded, said Keith Gary, vice president of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute Inc.
"If you're decreasing the number (of projects) entering that pipeline, you can fully anticipate there's going to be a smaller output," Gary said.
The pinched budget can have another effect — stifling riskier projects.
"Research by its very nature is all about risk," Curran said. "As the money becomes tighter, people tend to support the things they're familiar with as opposed to a really interesting, brilliant idea that's shaking everything up."
Jensen said he'd like to see more consistency in NIH funding, allowing researchers to plan ahead as they further their careers. That stability is also key to developing the next generation of researchers.
"I hope that prevails because it's going to be really critical in terms of sustaining the progress and trajectory we've been on," he said. "There have never been as many opportunities as there have right now."
Read the article via Kansas City Business Journal.
Learn more about the Children's Research Institute at Children's Mercy.
Learn more about the GOLDILOKS initiative.