Smita Bhatia, MD, MPH
Proposed federal budget cuts that could affect the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and thus hematology/oncology research, were highlighted as an area of concern during the 54th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) in Atlanta, Georgia.
Research supported by the NIH is in “serious jeopardy” due to a proposed 8% to 10% cut in the institute’s already shrunken budget, which is nearly 20% lower today than it was nine years ago, ASH leaders contended in statements during the conference and on a website ASH created to address the issue1
. ASH has launched the “Fight for Hematology” campaign to attract attention to the impact such cutbacks would have on research.
The possible spending cuts are part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, scheduled to go into effect at the end of this year unless Congress and the Obama administration agree on a plan to reduce the deficit first. At the NIH, the cuts would result in a $2.5 billion slash in authorized spending, leaving the budget at about $28.3 billion, ScienceInsider has reported2
. Political leaders in Washington, DC, are continuing to wrestle over deficit reduction, tax policies, and spending priorities.
ASH President Armand Keating, of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, has spoken out on the subject, asking senators and representatives, in a letter, to take a “thoughtful and balanced approach that protects nondefense discretionary programs against any further cuts, especially programs related to biomedical research.”
During the annual meeting, researchers discussed the potential effects of the budget cuts.
“Currently, when we submit grants, they have to be rated in the 7th to 9th percentile among all proposals to get funding—it’s a really stringent set of guidelines and a very highly competitive atmosphere,” said Smita Bhatia, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Population Sciences at City of Hope in Duarte, California. “If this budget cut comes about, I envision we’ll have not only a reduction in the amount of funding we’ll receive, but also that fewer investigators will get funding, and only those who are more established. Junior investigators will be at a tremendous risk of not receiving funding, becoming disheartened, and deciding not to join the academic track. As a result, we could lose a whole generation of our scientists.”
Mark J. Levis, MD, PhD, said the data he presented at ASH about quizartinib, the first treatment to produce a clinical benefit for a subset of patients with deadly treatment-resistant acute myeloid leukemia (AML), is a prime example of why funding should not be cut.
“We understand how this drug works, in part, because over the last 10 years I have been specifically funded by the NIH to study FLT3-ITD AML and develop a treatment,” said Levis, associate professor of Oncology, Pharmacology, and Medicine at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. “I can proudly say now: ‘Here’s my treatment.’ We have a drug we think can elevate the cure rate up to 90%, but we can’t just drop the science. The company sponsoring these trials will certainly run it, but if they’re not guided by the science, they have the potential to drop the ball. They might get the drug approved and it will be given to AML patients, but will it be given in the right way, the best way, and the most economical way—at the right time points to the right patients? That’s what the NIH research is doing: guiding this development.”
In a survey taken by ASH during the meeting, 1040 abstract presenters from inside and outside the United States weighed in on the importance of NIH funding to the success of science and medicine.
Among US respondents, 86% of abstract presenters said they had referenced an NIH study in conducting their own research over the years and 75% said they are “extremely concerned” about the impact of potential NIH budget cuts on medical research and development and on their future careers. In citing the international scope of concern, ASH noted that 52% of all respondents said they have referenced NIH-funded research and 44%said they were “extremely concerned” about threated cuts.
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