How the Recession Has Affected Medical Research
Question: How has the recession affected the NIH's funding priorities?
Francis Collins: Having the economy struggling at the level that it is and having rising concerns, understandably so, about the federal deficit has certainly had an impact on funding for biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health. When you look at the support we’ve had, we are grateful that even in tough economic times there has been a willingness to try to keep up at least with what we were doing before. But we haven’t gained much in terms of buying power over the last 10 years, we’ve been pretty much flat—even though the dollars being put in medical research have gone up a big, inflation has eroded that. The one exception was a $10 billion dollar increment as part of the Recovery Act, which needed to be spent in two years and which was invested in ways that I think are truly exciting. But science doesn’t operate on two-year cycles, so now that the Recovery Act money is running out, we are facing what could be very lean times indeed for medical research.
That forces us to be even more specific about how we set priorities. It forces us to say, we can’t do everything. It forces us in some instances to close down programs that have been reasonably productive, but compared to what we’d like to do now in terms of new an innovative projects aren’t quite as compelling as if we had unlimited resources. It makes the job of a science manager a lot tougher, but is the reality of what we are currently living with.
Question: Does the tight budget make it less likely that unorthodox or creative studies will get funding?
Francis Collins: I think there’s been a lot of concern that when budgets get tight, the peer review process can tend to be a little more conservative. And budgets are tight right now. If you send a grant to the NIH that’s got your best ideas in it, the chances that you’ll get funded is less than 20%. In some of our institutes, it’s down around 10%. That’s a terrible stress on the system. That means that investigators are having to write and rewrite grants over and over again in order to just keep their labs going. That means that reviewers who come to look at those grants spend time going into the details of a big pile of exciting applications knowing that probably they’re only going to be able to fund a small number.
And if you were a reviewer, and you’re looking at a pile of grants and amongst them are some very solid applications from very well-established investigators who have a really amazing track record. And then there’s another pile of new investigators you haven’t heard of who are just getting into the scientific arena, and don’t have as much preliminary data and haven’t published as much. There is a tendency, I think, to go with the proven entities and that may mean you are missing out on the innovative stuff from the new investigators.
To try to counter that, NIH has established a number of programs which can only be applied to if you have a slightly wacky idea. So those include things like the Pioneer Awards, and the New Innovator Awards, and the Transformative R01 Awards. All of those have a pretty high bar for innovation and a pretty limited requirement for preliminary data. And they are some of the most exciting science that we are currently supporting, but it’s a small fraction of the total. But it is an effort to try to avoid the conservatism that might otherwise become more prominent in times of difficult budget support.
Recorded September 13, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman
Having a smaller budget is forcing the NIH to be even more specific about how it sets priorities, and, in some instances, to close down productive programs.
Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.
No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.
China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.
- China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
- In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
- The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
These photos of scientific heroes and accomplishments inspire awe and curiosity.
- Science has given humanity an incalculable boost over the recent centuries, changing our lives in ways both awe-inspiring and humbling.
- Fortunately, photography, a scientific feat in and of itself, has recorded some of the most important events, people and discoveries in science, allowing us unprecedented insight and expanding our view of the world.
- Here are some of the most important scientific photos of history:
Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.
In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.