Even with a recent bump in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the agency’s backing is nowhere near where it needs to be, says the chair of the ACR’s Committee on Research. The NIH recently announced a small increase in funding for fiscal year 2014, including a 1.2% bump in grants for rheumatology and musculoskeletal research.
“Effectively, the NIH budget has been cut the past seven or eight years, and more recently it has been cut by the sequester,” says Bruce Cronstein, MD, professor of medicine at New York University and director of the NYU-HHC Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which receives nearly $6 million a year in NIH funding. That “has led to a significant drop in success rates, in terms of funding, and it has completely crippled the NIH, in terms of taking on new initiatives.”
NIH’s $31.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2014 is the largest source of health research funding in the country. The issue, Dr. Cronstein says, is that research funding isn’t keeping up with the cost of inflation, and America is “missing out on a lot of opportunities.” A decade ago, he adds, the percentage of NIH grant applications approved climbed as high as 25%. Today, it “is in the single digits.”
“This really is not a good thing,” Dr. Cronstein says. “The peer-review system doesn’t function well when things are this tight.”
Dr. Cronstein encourages rheumatology researchers, especially early-career physicians, to plug ahead. He says similar funding limitations in the early 1990s “wiped out an entire generation of researchers,” but the specialty endured and funding increased at the end of the decade and early 2000s.
“For those of you who survive these tough times, there are good times coming,” he says. “It’s the survival that is the difficult part.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.