With biomedical research funding tight, a Boston research institution faces closure

Boston Biomedical Research Institute, an independent research organization based in Watertown, faces a critical vote later this week that will determine whether or not it will shut down. The vote highlights just how critical federal funding of health and science research is to local institutions; the current downturn may mean the end of a Boston institution that was founded in 1968.

The story describing the dire financial situation that led to this vote, and the reaction among scientists inside and outside the institution, is here.

The reasons for closing are straightforward, according to director Charles Emerson. Boston Biomedical Research Institute is no longer financially sustainable. As funds have gotten tighter at the National Institutes of Health, competition for grants has gotten even more fierce. Small institutions such as BBRI do not have large endowments to help weather severe slumps in federal funding.

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“BBRI was founded without a big endowment; it’s been through two, maybe three cycles with the NIH and usually there’s a bounce back,” Emerson said. But last year, he said the institute ran a deficit, and the amount of grants expected next year are significantly lower.

The scientists who work at and love the place are passionate—and hopeful that although the trustees have recommended closure, something can be saved. Several have written letters to the members of the corporation asking them to vote against closure on Thursday.

Below are the comments of Vic Raso, a scientist at BBRI working on a cancer vaccine:

“I understand that in today’s bad economy, people like myself may be expendable. But if the mission of BBRI is to advance science and medicine, are important new ideas also going to be thrown by the wayside? But this is exactly what will happen if you vote yes to rapidly and unceremoniously close BBRI as of April 1. There is no way that the faculty can wait for NIH to review/fund pending grants much less land a new position in the time frame fostered upon us by the Board. Make no mistake; a yes vote will end the careers of BBRI scientists like myself.”