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NCI Girds for Sharply Lower Budget Increases in FY 2004

NCI Girds for Sharply Lower Budget Increases in FY 2004

BETHESDA, Maryland—Leaner times are in the offing for the National
Institutes of Health (NIH), starting in the fall of 2003. The White House has
told agency officials to expect President Bush to propose only a 2.2% increase
for the NIH in his budget recommendations for fiscal year (FY) 2004. This
figure is significantly lower than the 15.7% increase he asked Congress to
approve for NIH in the FY 2003 budget, which begins October 1.

In seeking $27.335 billion for NIH in FY 2003, which included a 12.2%
increase to $4.725 billion for the National Cancer Institute, Mr. Bush added
his support to the congressional drive to double the NIH budget over 5 years.
FY 2003 is the last year of that effort.

In one of several presentations to the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB)
on the budget situation, NCI director Andrew von Eschenbach, MD, expressed
optimism that Congress will accept the President’s FY 2003 recommendation,
but noted the impact of an essentially flat budget in FY 2004.

"We are beginning to pay a great deal of attention to the fact that
this growth curve is going to ultimately flatten out," he said. "At
present, the philosophy that is being discussed is to maintain commitment to
the renewal of noncompeting awards."

During the current fiscal year, nearly half of NCI’s $4.2 billion dollar
budget will go to fund 4,600 research grants, up from 4,300 in FY 2001, Dr. von
Eschen-bach said. This number is estimated to include 1,288 competing awards,
including 816 RO1 grants (which support a single, investigator-initiated
project), of which 195 will go to first-time grantees, up from 182 in FY 2001.

The NCI director said the Institute expects to fund the top 22% of research
projects approved by peer review committees as worthy of support. The cut-off
percentage at which such grants are funded is referred to as the payline.
"So, for 2002, we are well on target with regard to growth, and at the
same time, we are beginning to look at the growth from the view of the
challenges that will play out next year and the years after," Dr. von
Eschenbach said.

The payline for research grants is determined each year by both the budget
that Congress allocates to NCI and the number of research grants on the
peer-reviewed list. "As you see the dollars rising in the extramural
research budget, you don’t always see a concomitant rise in the payline,"
said Marvin R. Kalt, PhD, director of the Division of Extramural Activities.
"What you see is a concomitant rise in the number of absolute awards,
perhaps, or the average cost."

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