NIH’s Raynard Kington Defends Obama’s Research Priorities

In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education on May 21, Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington thanked Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and the Congress for the unprecedented $10.4 billion investment Congress provided for NIH in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) as well as the 3.2% increase for the agency in Fiscal Year 2009.

In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education on May 21, Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington thanked Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and the Congress for the unprecedented $10.4 billion investment Congress provided for NIH in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) as well as the 3.2% increase for the agency in Fiscal Year 2009.  He also sought to explain how the agency is seeking to responsibly manage the allocation of these funds, which NIH is required to spend by the end of the Fiscal Year 2010.  As NIH has received more than 20,000 applications for the challenge grants, Chairman Harkin questioned whether the projected 5% success rate is going to discourage scientists in the field and whether Congress should provide an exception to the spending requirement so that the money could be used to maintain more robust and stable funding resources beyond fiscal year 2010. Kington stated that NIH would appreciate some added flexibility—a sentiment echoed by the three Institute directors who joined him on the panel—but that all of the NIH’s planning has been focused on spending the money as required in ARRA. Kington also clarified that rather than the initial $200 million, NIH will likely invest closer to $400 million in the challenge grant mechanism and another $400 million on the Grand Opportunity (GO) grants, which will support high impact ideas and large-scale research. 

The President’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget also called for an increase of $443 million for NIH, of which $268 million is targeted to cancer research and $141 million is directed to autism research. Harkin questioned the wisdom and fairness of prioritizing these two diseases, while all the other diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, would only receive a small part of the remaining $153 million of the increase. He indicated that Congress might disagree with these priorities, reminding Kington that the Administration merely proposes the budget, but it is Congress that disposes the funding to NIH and they may have a different view.