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Rep. Brian Higgins and John M. Canty, MD.

John Canty Jr., MD (right), joins Rep. Brian Higgins, to support enhanced federal investment in medical research “for the jobs it creates and the lives it saves.”

Higgins Introduces Bill to Boost NIH Biomedical Research Funding

Published October 7, 2014

Representatives of the University at Buffalo and other biomedical research organizations joined Rep. Brian Higgins as he announced legislation that would increase funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to more than $46.2 billion by 2021.

“It is NIH support of innovative research that is fueling a thriving knowledge economy in Western New York, an important piece of which will be the opening of UB’s medical school on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.”
Albert and Elizabeth Rekate Professor of Medicine, chief of cardiovascular medicine

The proposal would incrementally boost funding over the current $29.9 billion for the next seven years, exceeding the cap allowed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Since 2003, NIH funding for medical research has not kept pace with inflation, Higgins said at a news conference at Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI) on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

“Increasing our investment in medical research should be a national priority for the jobs it creates and the lives it saves.”

Helping Scientists Continue Pursuing New Treatments

“Unfortunately, Congress has let its commitment to medical research lag, and American researchers are paying the price. This bill will start to return vital funding to the NIH and continue our pursuit to find better treatments and cures for so many debilitating diseases,” said Higgins.

“The only failure in medical research is when you quit or are forced to quit due to lack of funding,” he added.

Higgins is co-sponsoring the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act with Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. The DeLauro-Higgins bill, H.R. 5580, is the House companion of S. 2658, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Support Fuels ‘Thriving Knowledge Economy’ in WNY

Michael Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the medical school, and John M. Canty Jr., MD, Albert and Elizabeth Rekate Professor of Medicine, joined Higgins at the event. Other local organizations that receive NIH funding also were represented, including Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI), CUBRC and HWI.

Canty, chief of cardiovascular medicine, said cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Erie County, New York State and across the country. “NIH support ensures that my team is able to conduct groundbreaking research in this area,” he said.

Citing a broader benefit, Canty noted, “It is NIH support of innovative research that is fueling a thriving knowledge economy in Western New York, an important piece of which will be the opening of UB’s medical school on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.”

NIH grant funding is especially important to the success and growth of the campus, where the number of jobs is expected to reach nearly 17,000 by 2017, Higgins said.

Proposal ‘Desperately Needed’ Says Researcher

Eaton E. Lattman, PhD, principal investigator for the National Science Foundation (NSF) BioXFEL Science and Technology Center, noted that America’s biomedical research infrastructure is being degraded “in much the same way as its physical infrastructure of bridges and roadways — through lack of adequate funding.”

The BioXFEL center, funded with a $25 million Science and Technology Center grant from NSF to UB, represents a national consortium of eight research universities and institutes.

“Congressman Higgins’ proposal to restore NIH funding to historic levels will regenerate our ability to find cures and deal with crises such as the Ebola virus outbreak. It is desperately needed,” said Lattman, a professor of structural biology and the chief executive officer of HWI.

NIH Cuts Slow Research Advances

Adekunle O. Odunsi, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, said cuts to the NIH’s budget have slowed the pace of research advances and are “forcing clinical scientists to leave good ideas unexplored and to dedicate an unacceptable share of their time to seeking alternate funding.”

“This is impacting patients,” he stressed. “You can come up with the most innovative approaches, but when you can’t get your projects funded, you can’t get them to patients.”

“We applaud Congressman Higgins for his leadership on this critical issue,” said Odunsi, chair of gynecologic oncology and executive director of the Center for Immunotherapy at RPCI.

CUBRC CEO Tom McMahon said his center has been performing biomedical research for more than a decade, “and without the funding provided by the U.S. government for this vital research, our world-class scientists and partners would simply not have the financial resources needed to move this important work forward.”

Bill Would Reverse Declining Support for NIH

Accounting for inflation, funding for NIH in fiscal year 2013 was 22 percent less than 2003 levels. This declining support has significantly affected research efforts, as follows:

  • between fiscal year 2012 and 2013, the NIH issued approximately 700 fewer competitive research grants, down to 8,283 in 2013 from 8,896 in 2012
  • 750 fewer new patients were admitted to NIH clinical centers in 2013 — 9,945 compared to 10,695 in 2012

Research institutions and scientists in Higgins’ district received nearly $89 million from the NIH in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.