On Thursday the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education held its FY 2010 NIH budget hearing. There were two particular items of note for the cancer community.

When discussing the NIH funding which was received through the economic stimulus package, Senator Harkin questioned if the current two years the NIH and its grantees have been given to use the allocated funds is enough time to do meaningful research? Dr. Kington, and the four institute directors who were present to testify, stated that there are benefits to having a degree of flexibility in how stimulus funds are allocated. They stated that the funds were already supporting very promising research. The NCI director, Dr. John Niederhuber, additionally testified that NCI is already using stimulus funds to support new clinical trials for new drugs and has expanded its program to map the genome of different cancer types to include common brain tumors. All of the testimony stressed that they can and will be able to do groundbreaking work that would not be possible without the grants, but flexibility would be useful so there was not a hard date cutoff for the work to be completed.

Senator Harkin noted that the President’s proposed increase for the NIH in FY10 is $442 million above FY09 and commented that this is a modest 1.5% increase. However, he pointed out that $268 million out of the $442 million is directed for cancer research, leaving out very little for other debilitating diseases.

Senator Harkin then asked the acting NIH director if cancer research is getting to much money in the President’s budget and if it is fair. The Director response that cancer research is supported by all institutes, not just NCI, the funding proposed in the President’s budget is being spread out across the NIH, and that cancer research benefits many diseases.

Senator Harkin concluded by saying that the subcommittee might need to come up with its own, more fair, allocation for the NIH institutes.

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW