NIH research funding boost is a vital investment

The U.S. House of Representatives doesn’t do many bipartisan things these days, but in boosting funding for medical research through the National Institutes of Health, common ground has been found. Solid ground.

Putting an extra $1.5 billion a year into the NIH through the 21st Century Cures Act will likely save lives. It’s as simple and profound as that.

The NIH, a federal agency that funds medical research in the U.S. and around the world, has seen its ability to approve grants diminished in the last 10 years, and this legislation is an attempt to catch the agency up to pre-recession levels. In addition, the measure pushed the Food and Drug Administration to seek faster ways of getting drugs approved. That’s cause for concern in some corners of the scientific community, but Steven Patierno, deputy director of the Duke Cancer Institute, is not among the skeptics.

“The amount of effort, time, money and otherwise, that institutions have to put into regulatory compliance is staggering,” Patierno said, and he sees the changes as slicing some red tape. As one on the front lines, his views are reassuring.

The money, should it go through both houses of Congress, is likely to make a big difference to area universities and companies in the Research Triangle Park area, a center of ground-breaking medical research.

The money goes mostly to universities, but it also is made available to start-up research companies, many of which have begun in the RTP area. The most important aspect of the change is, of course, the medical advancements that will result from additional funding. But it also will boost jobs in the scientific sector.

Patierno notes that, “We’ve lost probably two generations of cancer researchers who have left a career in science because of concerns that there was very little future other than an intensively competitive one.” This change, with more money for more scientists, may change that.

Residents of this area have seen, time and again, wondrous work done in institutions close by and close to one another. Those institutions now work more closely together, which is important if research is to be advanced more quickly.

Every year, it seems, news of another breakthrough comes, and Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill have long been on the forefront of cancer research, to use two examples. And both are now participating in national studies on illnesses of all kinds. The additional money from the NIH will only boost these institutions in their pursuit of better health, and better treatment outcomes, for all of humankind.