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NIH Director Speaks on Budget Concerns

By Jerry Phelps
July 2006

NIH Director, Elias Zerhouni
Elias Zerhouni, NIH Director

Elias Zerhouni, Director of the National Institutes of Health addressed the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council and NIEHS staff on June 1. Zerhouni's remarks, delivered through a videoconference, focused mainly on the proposed FY07 budget for NIH and NIEHS. He described several events, including the federal and trade deficits, increased spending for homeland security and defense, Hurricane Katrina, and preparations for pandemic flu, that have created a "Perfect Storm" resulting in budget cuts for NIH.

Zerhouni also addressed several "myths" regarding NIH priorities and their affects on the overall budget. One concern is that the NIH leadership is putting more emphasis on applied research versus basic research. Zerhouni pointed out that the distribution of funding for basic and applied research has been relatively unchanged over the past several years. He also addressed a perception that NIH is moving towards more targeted research programs by showing that spending for investigator initiated research grant proposals has actually increased from 91 percent in 1995 to 93 percent in 2005. Zerhouni addressed concerns about funding for the NIH Roadmap Initiative and it's potential drain on the overall NIH budget, by pointing out that the entire FY 2005 budget for Roadmap was $28.8 million or only 1.2 percent of the NIH budget. He defended this program as being the only way to "incubate and encourage high risk research" and said the program's goal is to increase synergy across all of NIH.

Referring to management of the NIH budget in the post-doubling budget period, Zerhouni drew the analogy of biomedical research as being like a marathon. He said "You cannot give a marathon runner twice as much water in the first half of the race and nothing in the second." Next, he highlighted several "Strategies for the Future" including continued funding emphasis for investigator initiated research projects and programs to support new investigators such as the new K99/R00 research grant that transitions post-doctoral fellows into their first research grant. Zerhouni also expressed his desire that the biomedical research community convey a unified message about the positive impacts of NIH-supported research at regional and national levels.

Zerhouni closed his prepared remarks by praising NIEHS for its leadership in the Genes and Environment Initiative, which NIEHS is undertaking with the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Zerhouni also recognized how NIEHS improved the health of the nation. He specifically mentioned the role NIEHS-funded research has played on identifying particulate air pollution as a risk factor for heart disease morbidity and mortality and the Institute's contribution to the Inner City Asthma Study. Zerhouni said that NIH is transforming medicine through discovery and that the agency will continue to play a major role in changing the Nation's health care delivery system so that it becomes more "predictive, personalized, preemptive, and participatory."

Click on to view the videocast of Zerhouni's presentation.

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