NIH Director Assumes Greater Budget Authority
A "little-noticed" bill signed by President Bush this month, which grants NIH Director Elias Zerhouni greater budget authority over the institute's research, has prompted concern among patient advocacy groups who fear their research will be compromised, the Wall Street Journal reports. Under the law, Zerhouni and future NIH directors will be able to organize a "common fund" that eventually would pool about 5% of NIH's money to fund research projects that span traditional biomedical fields.
The institute's budget previously was managed by the 27 separate institutes and centers within NIH, all of which have ties to patient advocacy groups representing a variety of diseases. Such groups are concerned that the common fund will increase "at the expense of their own research, carving money out of their funds," the Journal reports.
Zerhouni says new funding will promote trans-disciplinary research, and obesity and nanotechnology research will be high priorities.
According to the Journal, a successful pilot project for the common fund, called the NIH Roadmap, "helped bolster the case for more centralized pooling of funds." The NIH Roadmap and other trans-NIH programs currently account for 1% of NIH's budget.
Zerhouni acknowledged that it would take "multiple years" for the fund to increase to 5% of the overall budget. Once it does, Zerhouni must report to Congress, which has earmarked $483 million for the common fund in its proposed fiscal year 2007 budget resolution.
Under the law, the common fund eventually could grow larger than 5% of the budget. According to Zerhouni, funding will be awarded by a peer-review process and an NIH special council will advise on spending. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), at times a critic of NIH, said the new legislation would "strengthen the research efforts of the NIH and will provide the foundation for future scientific and medical advancement" (Wysocki, Wall Street Journal, 1/31).