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Posted on: 06/04/2200
FASEB Holds Its Annual Face-to-Face SPC Meeting to Discuss Basic Research Funding During a Time of Fiscal Constraint
Posted on: 06/10/2013
By Allison Lea
On June 2-3, FASEB’s Science Policy Committee (SPC) held its annual face-to-face meeting in Bethesda, MD, where the main topic of discussion was to address the decreasing federal funding opportunities for basic scientific research. In his opening remarks, FASEB Vice-President Elect Dr. Peter Rubenstein (who will become Chair of the SPC and the FASEB Vice President for Science Policy in July) described the importance of exploring non-federal funding opportunities, as well as identifying ways in which FASEB can increase awareness of alternative funding strategies among its society members.
The Committee heard four presentations from different areas of non-federal funding: private foundation and philanthropy; industry; commercialization; and crowd sourcing. Dr. T.J. Koerner, Director of Research Information Management at the American Cancer Society (ACS) explained that the role of private funders is to provide catalytic support for risky but important projects that are either too sensitive or not sufficiently incremental for governmental funding. For example, over the last decade ACS has funded one third of grants to new cancer investigators that the National Cancer Institute is often able to fund. Dr. Koerner also introduced the Health Research Alliance, which was established with the goal of bringing together non-profit, non-governmental organizations to optimize the impact of investment in biomedical research and training to improve human health.
Dr. Shiv Krishnan, Senior Director of Scouting and Partnering at Sanofi, described the need for collaboration between academia and biomedical research and discovery, and highlighted several models currently being pursued by Sanofi to achieve this goal. For instance, Sanofi’s “Access” Platform invests in research from public lab sources to develop pharmaceutical tools and leads and new intellectual property. In addition, Sanofi utilizes broad umbrella agreements with top institutions with a potential for large collaborations with minimal financial risk.
To explore additional, outside-of-the-box funding opportunities, the SPC also heard presentations from Daniel Gutierrez, CEO and Co-founder of FundaGeek, who emphasized how crowdfunding can be utilized to supplement grants by engaging the public to encourage investment in scientific research, and Duane Roth, CEO of Connect, who demonstrated a commercial approach to catalyzing scientific innovation and entrepreneurship. During the panel discussion following the four presentations, Committee members questioned how they might better inform Congress of the need for funding basic research and determine potential sources of non-federal funding.
FASEB Responds to Criticisms of NIH Communications Expenditures
Posted on: 06/10/2013
By Yvette Seger
Correspondence co-authored by FASEB leadership and staff responding to the criticisms of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) communications expenditures was published in the May 30 issue of Nature. Prompted by a series of articles in The Cancer Letter (also covered in a Nature editorial), criticizing spending by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Office of Communications and Education (OCE), Congress launched an inquiry into all NIH “public relations” expenditures. In its response, FASEB emphasized the value of communications to the NIH mission and stressed that reduction of spending to these programs would provide virtually no relief to the loss of capacity to fund research sustained by NIH as a result of sequestration, a decade of flat funding, and inflation.
In addition to the content of the Nature correspondence, FASEB would like to highlight the following additional points related to the inquiry of NCI OCE expenditures and spending by the NIH on communications efforts more broadly:
- Many NCI OCE activities are in response to Congressional mandates or requests.
- The NCI OCE produces many resources for cancer patients, doctors, researchers, and the American public, including: educational brochures; the Physician Data Query, an online resource that provides peer-reviewed summaries on cancer research, treatment, care, and prevention, as well as a database of past and current clinical trials; and toll-free phone lines for cancer information and tobacco cessation.
- While some critics noted spending reductions at NCI OCE (by 34 percent since 2006 not adjusting for inflation), the cancellation of the NCI Cancer Bulletin in January 2013 – further evidence that NIH leadership continues to address mission creep – was not acknowledged.
- Fiscal year (FY) 2013 cuts to the NIH budget due to sequestration (approximately six percent of the NCI budget) dwarf the less-than-one percent of the NCI budget devoted to OCE expenditures in FY 2012. Further reductions in communications and education spending will not greatly improve the financial situation of NCI or NIH, but may make biomedical discoveries less accessible to the patients, physicians, and the public.
- This congressional inquiry came during a critical period in which the efforts of senior NIH staff members were diverted from portfolio planning to accommodate sequestration cuts to respond to the inquiry.
The value of science is exponentially increased when it is shared with and utilized by society at large. Therefore, FASEB strongly supports the efforts of the NCI OCE as well as related offices within other NIH Institutes and Centers, as communication with and education of the public is integral to the pursuit NIH’s overall mission.
NAS Public Comment Meeting on Data Sharing Highlights Challenges and Benefits
Posted on: 06/10/2013
By Bethany Drehman
On May 16 and 17 a public comment meeting on data sharing was held at the National Academy of Science in Washington, DC. Sponsored by several federal agencies that fund research, the meeting focused on how agencies can best implement the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memorandum – which is part of a larger effort to increase public access to federal data – for sharing federally funded digital research data and publications. Agencies will be submitting their draft data sharing plans this summer and are directed to seek feedback from stakeholders when preparing their final plans.
Public comments from the meeting were generally supportive of increased data-sharing within the scientific community, but also highlighted a wide range of issues and caveats that remain to be addressed, including: (1) a need for a clearer definition of “research data” as used in the memorandum; (2) how data sharing will be funded (it is currently an unfunded mandate); and (3) the challenges associated with creating collection systems for the complex and diverse data that results from research and making it assessable to a variety of end-users. Overall, commenters appeared to interpret the memorandum as only applicable to data underlying scholarly publications.
Inside (the Beltway) Scoop
Posted on: 06/10/2013
By Jenifer Zeitzer
House Continues Work on 2014 Funding Bills; Senate Appropriations Action Expected in Mid-June; New Factsheet Describes Impact of Sequestration on Research Funding
The House Appropriations Committee continued to make progress on the fiscal year (FY) 2014 spending bills as Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) stated his intention to draft and consider all 12 measures despite increasing skepticism that any of them will be enacted into law. With an overall spending limit of $967 billion – more than $90 billion below the Senate level – Chairman Rogers noted that he will move forward on the individual bills while hoping that Congress eventually approves a budget agreement giving the Appropriations Committee a better allocation.
The decision to adhere to the $967 billion spending level provoked a tense debate between Republicans and Democrats when the Appropriations Committee approved the 302(b) allocations (overall spending levels) for each subcommittee prior to the Memorial Day recess. As expected, the allocations for nearly all of the committees that fund the federal science agencies were far below last year’s levels:
In his opening remarks, Chairman Rogers noted that “the guillotine of sequestration has fallen, and…its consequences have been, and will continue to be, very harmful, and it should be replaced in the very near term.” He also added, “sequestration is taking a huge toll on discretionary spending, leaving us with this very low top-line number. Yet our hands are tied, and we must try and make do with the level we have right now.”
Democrats protested the austerity of the funding levels for the various subcommittees and discussed the impact of the spending cuts that were implemented in March due to sequestration. The $28 billion cut to the Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Subcommittee drew the most criticism, as it was noted that agencies funded by that bill, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), would likely face an 18.6 percent reduction below the FY 2013 levels. LHHS Subcommittee ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called the Subcommittee allocations “outrageous” and offered an amendment to replace the sequester with a combination of spending cuts and increased revenue; similar to legislation that she introduced with House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) earlier this year. The DeLauro amendment was defeated 22-26.
Nita Lowey (NY), the top Democrat on the full Committee, offered an amendment to postpone approval of the 302(b)s for 30 days in order to buy time while the leadership tries to resolve the differences between the House and Senate top-line funding level. For her efforts, Representative Lowey received a lecture from Chairman Rogers about being “boxed in” by the House Budget Resolution (H Con Res 25), which established the $967 billion spending limit. The Lowey amendment was rejected on a party line vote of 22-26.
In addition to approving the 302(b) allocations, the Appropriations Committee passed the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (VA) bill (HR 2216) by a voice vote. The bill provided $585.6 million for the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research Program, $2.9 million (0.5 percent) above the FY 2013 enacted level. A summary of the legislation, the bill text, report language, and a webcast of the mark-up are available on the House Appropriations Committee website. On June 4, the full House approved the Military Construction/VA measure by a vote of 421-4, after less than one day of debate.
The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee also completed action on the bill that funds the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), providing $290.6 million; $15 million (5.5 percent) above the FY 2013 funding level for the Program. Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) mentioned AFRI in his opening statement, noting “the funding in this bill will help keep America’s agricultural research cutting-edge, maintain vibrant rural communities, provide nutrition to those most vulnerable, and keep our markets competitive.” The full House is expected to vote on the Agriculture appropriations bill later this month.
On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) published a May 31 opinion article in the Washington Post, detailing the impact of sequestration cuts on a long list of government agencies and programs, specifically mentioning the reductions in spending for medical research. Urging her colleagues to “come together across party lines,” Chairwoman Mikulski advocated replacing sequestration with a responsible and balanced deficit reduction plan. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to reveal its 302(b) allocations and begin consideration of the FY 2014 spending bills the week of July 17, starting with the Military Construction/VA bill. Debate on the Senate LHHS bill is likely to occur after the July 4 congressional recess.
In related sequestration news, NIH released a new factsheet summarizing the impact of the sequestration cuts on the agency, noting that sequestration requires NIH to cut five percent ($1.55 billion) from its FY 2013 budget and that every area of medical research will be affected. It also discusses the effect of the cuts on the scientific workforce and mentions delays in medical progress. According to the factsheet, approximately 750 fewer new patients will be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center, and there will be no increase in National Research Service Awards stipends in FY 2013. There are additional links within the factsheet to the NIH FY 2013 Operating Plan, the policy for FY 2013 grant awards, and individual NIH Institute and Center FY 2013 funding strategies.