On the eve of the March for Science in Washington, DC, Mary Klotman, MD, chair of the Department of Medicine and dean-elect of the School of Medicine, joined Representative David Price and nine other local leaders from academia, pharma and government in the Research Triangle Park to discuss the impact of the proposed $6 billion reduction in federal funds to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in FY 2018.
All of the groups represented at the roundtable rely heavily on funding from the federal government, and all agreed that the level of budget reductions proposed for the 2018 federal budget would be devastating and would require universities and other organizations to make dramatic changes to their infrastructures.
Members of the roundtable discussion warned that the budget reductions would have a profound impact on public health and would likely cause a dramatic halt in progress made over the last century from biomedical discoveries.
“I’m an HIV researcher,” said Klotman. “HIV research illustrates how collaborations between government, academia, and industry can make dramatic impacts. HIV used to kill millions. Now it is a manageable disease.”
According to UNAIDS, the number of AIDS-related deaths has dropped by 45% since the peak in 2005. In 2015, 1.1 million people died from AIDS-related causes worldwide, compared to 2 million in 2005.
“Still, there is more work to be done,” said Klotman. “We need to find a vaccine, and we are close.”
Price said he had not expected the level of proposed cuts to the NIH and urged roundtable participants and others to continue to advocate for research funding. “Don’t be fooled into thinking this can’t happen,” said Price. “I couldn’t dream that the NIH budget would be cut to this extent. I hope it won’t be this drastic.”
“This is the worst time to cut research funding,” said Klotman. “We are on the brink of major successes. At Duke, we have a $95 million grant from the NIH that is funding research to determine the most effective and safe dosage of medications for children. And we have made remarkable progress in our ability to treat patients with cancer.”
The effect of cuts on public health wasn’t overshadowed by the effects the cuts would have on the economy and on future scientists and health care professionals.
Last year, NIH-funded research supported almost 380,000 jobs and $65 billion in economic activity across the United States. In North Carolina alone, NIH funding created a total of nearly 19,000 jobs and an economic gain in the state of $2.9 billion.
“Often what’s forgotten in the conversation about funding is the training of our next generation of researchers and physicians. That requires labs and mentors, which are funded with federal dollars,” said Klotman.
While roundtable participants spent the morning discussing the proposed budget cuts and what those would mean to their organizations, they also asked Representative Price what could be done to prevent the budget reductions.
“Advocacy is important,” said Price. Personal stories are the most impactful, he said. “When you hear from patients and survivors, how can you not be touched?”