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Big Bucks for Science of All Sizes

Francis Collins took the reigns of the National Institutes of Health as director in August. Shortly thereafter, he invited a Kathy Hudson, a former colleague from the National Human Genome Research Institute, to serve as his chief of staff, a new role within the director’s office. This week, they each shared some of their thinking on the direction of the NIH with interviews in the New England Journal of Medicine and The Scientist, respectively.

Hudson, who co-authored a popular SP article on how to engage the scientific community with the American public, was formerly head of the Johns Hopkins Genetics & Public Policy Center. She told The Scientist that talks were ongoing about how to manage the additional $10.4 billion dollars in NIH funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but the Institutes are wasting no time in getting money to researchers. “Five billion dollars are going out the door this month,” she said.

In talking to NEJM, Collins acknowledged the tension between supporting “big science” projects like the Human Genome Research Project and investigator-driven studies. He offered this synthesis: “The foundation of advances in biomedical research will continue to be the bright ideas of individual investigators, but if they are empowered by tools and databases and technologies that big science has made available, then we can go faster,” he said.

Collins also said that the question of what happens when the ARRA funds run out weighs heavy, saying: “There is much discussion about the NIH falling off a cliff. Scientific research is not a 100-yard dash. It is a marathon. Two years is way too short to take a cool idea and develop it to some sort of end point.”

Ensuring a smooth funding transition in 2010 should be a priority for Congress, and that process begins now, by ending the five-year streak of flat baseline funding for the NIH. There’s no shortage of good science to fund, and biomedical research creates good jobs as it improves the health of Americans and the economy.

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