On Wednesday night, President Trump released his spending blueprint for fiscal year 2018. I, and many of my colleagues and friends, were stunned to see that it proposed a $5.8 billion cut for the National Institutes of Health. This amounts to approx. 19% of its annual budget.
This proposal is politically problematic, since about 80% of NIH funding is dispersed in grants to approximately 300,000 researchers who work at universities in every state in the nation. Moreover, because these grants are typically for 3-5 years, a practice that allows consistency in hiring and purchasing, President Trump’s reductions will disrupt research, creating uncertainty and inevitably slowing discovery of treatments and cures for devastating disease.
While this proposal is unprecedented, biomedical leaders have faced funding challenges before. During the Clinton Administration there was bipartisan support to double the NIH budget each year, ending in 2003. Since then, funding has slowly eroded, and never fully recovered. Congress did restore some funding over the past two years through the Precision Medicine Initiative (now called the “All of Us Research Program”) and, most recently, the 21st Century Cures Act.
Now, President Trump has proposed the most dramatic funding cut in NIH history, inevitably impacting medical progress, ranging from research into Alzheimer’s and other dementias (which are predicted to cost more than $20 trillion in health care costs over the next four decades), to vaccine development for the next pandemics, like Ebola and Zika.
At Spectrum, my team and I work every day to help clients tell their science stories, to ensure all stakeholders—physicians, patients, payers and policymakers—know and understand the value of the treatments, therapies and cures they have developed. But in many ways, our most important client is science itself.
Without the work supported by NIH, many treatments will never be developed or reach the patients who need them the most. President Trump’s budget blueprint will dramatically hobble NIH and America’s biomedical researchers.
In a New York Times editorial last year, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich called on Congress to double the NIH budget “because health is both a moral and financial issue.”
I don’t expect this Congress to heed the former Speaker’s call, but I hope you’ll join me in urging Congress to reject President’s Trump’s NIH proposal and continue to support breakthrough biomedical research and discovery in the United States.
Jonathan Wilson is President and CEO of Spectrum Science Communications, a leading independent health and science public relations agency. He is also President of GLOBALHealthPR, the largest independent public relations network dedicated exclusively to health and medical communications worldwide.