Congress must move slow on increasing NIH funding

nih budget

As the administration continues to flop about like a landed fish in its response to Ebola, the agencies that mismanaged the US response are looking at the panic caused by their ineptitude as a fund raising gimmick (here | here).

The core of the problem is not that NIH or CDC has too little money but rather they have too much. The Washington Free Beacon hits in an article headlined Ebola v. Obesity: The Politicized NIH hits on the problem:

For over a year, the Washington Free Beacon’s Elizabeth Harrington has been documenting research grants provided by the National Institutes of Health to recipients like an obvious conman who said he wanted to bring origami condoms to the world ($2.5 million) and teams studying if obese people could be persuaded to lose weight by having the government text message them ($2.7 million). Last week, with the NIH’s budget in the spotlight—courtesy of the director of the NIH himself, Dr. Francis Collins, who claimed that an Ebola vaccine would likely exist today were it not for a “10-year-slide in research support” for his organization—Harrington wrote a round-up of her work on this issue, observing that the total amount of absurd NIH funding she had chronicled amounted to nearly $40 million, all of which would obviously have been better spent on an Ebola vaccine—or on cancer, or on HIV/AIDS, or on any number of worthy medical causes.

But the problem is not really politicized research in terms that a lay person would describe it. There has been, under Dr. Collins, more amenability to using favorite diseases as a way of building Congressional consensus for increased NIH funding. This results it a distortion of research funding (breast cancer and AIDS are two diseases that have built research empires at the expense of other, equally deadly, conditions, on the strength of public relations campaigns) that perhaps benefits other research areas. And one can’t assume that the money appropriated based on public relations and lobbying would be there if the publicity wasn’t.

Contrary to Dr. Collins’s ill-advised comment (which has sense been disavowed by others) about funding cuts curtailing Ebola research, the real problem is two-fold. First, the development costs for vaccines are astronomical thanks to the regulatory infrastructure and the market is so small that no pharmaceutical company would consider developing it. But behind that is the fact that very few scientists are going …read more    

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