The federal 2018 research budget: What to expect for biophotonics

June 8, 2017
How will the FY2018 White House budget impact biomedical research, and the optics and photonics technologies that enable it?
Susan Reiss 720

How will the FY2018 White House budget (a.k.a. "A New Foundation for American Greatness") impact biomedical research, and the optics and photonics technologies that enable it?

It's no secret that science, particularly health science (including that depending on optics and photonics), could take the brunt of President Trump's budget axe. Based on analysis by AAAS, the White House seeks to cut total research spending by nearly 17% (about $13 billion)—a magnitude approached previously only by Ronald Reagan.

If Congress enacts this budget as written, both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would experience double-digit reductions. Here's a quick rundown on the proposed cuts:

The NIH budget request slashes about $6 billion from its FY2017 level. This translates into reductions of 13% or more across the board at all of the institutes. The National Institute on Aging would take the biggest hit, with a 36% cut. The National Eye Institute, the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and the National Cancer Institute would experience decreases of 25%, 21%, and 17%, respectively. The cuts also would eliminate the Fogarty International Center, which supports and facilitates global health research conducted by U.S. and international investigators.

The NIH Common Fund, which supports high-risk, high-reward research initiatives in emerging areas, would have $219 million less to spend than the FY2017 levels, but some programs within the Fund, such as the Director's Pioneer, New Innovator, and Early Independence Award programs, come out even or slightly ahead in the FY2018 budget. Three other Common Fund programs are in the plus column for 2018. The Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans would get a nearly seven-fold increase. This program is expected to catalog the biological molecules affected by physical activity.

Two new programs slated to launch in FY2018 would receive about $6 million each. The Human BioMolecular Atlas Project aims to analyze the human body at a single-cell level and draws on partnerships with other funding groups, such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Wellcome Trust. The Transformative High Resoluton Cryo-Electron Microscopy program would help build capacity and infrastructure throughout the U.S., enabling access to this method of dye-free visualization of frozen samples.

The FDA budget calls for a 30% cut, slashing its budget from $2.7 billion to $1.9 billion. Decreases could be offset by increasing user fees the FDA receives from pharmaceutical and device companies to help expedite the drug and device approval process. Described as a "recalibration" of fees in the budget, this increase means that drug and device companies would pay more when they submit a new product application.

Former FDA Commissioner Robert Califf tweeted that "a cut in FDA will create logjam for life cycle of technology innovation."

Congress's role
For the past decade, federal research spending has been ~0.4% of the U.S. gross domestic product—the proposed cuts would lower that to 0.31%.

While many agree that the budget proposes an earthquake to shake the core of scientific progress, it's good to keep in mind that the appropriations process is a long one, and Congress holds the purse strings. And that Congress is unlikely to enact the budget as written.

As Mary Woolley, president of Research!America, said in a statement, "Congress recognizes the urgency in keeping research for health at the forefront of national priorities, as it has signaled with back-to-back, significant increases for the NIH in FY16 and FY17. Strong bipartisan support for research must continue in FY18, and at the same time, Congress should act to lift the budget caps that threaten to hamstring non-defense discretionary appropriations."

About the Author

Susan Reiss | Contributing Editor, BioOptics World

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