Clipboard: Boston researchers worry NIH cuts will cost jobs, progress on critical health studies

Without quick action from Congress, spending by the National Institutes of Health will be cut 8.2 percent, or about $2.5 billion annually, prompting concern among leaders of Boston-area hospitals and research labs, Robert Weisman reports in today’s Globe. The cuts would be part of the budget sequestration process.

Massachusetts institutions have much to loose. They have received about 10 percent of NIH grants in recent years, and the cuts could cost them an estimated $200 million to $300 million in the next year, Weisman reports.

Fiscal conservatives have argued that spending on biomedical research might be better left to the states. Researchers say cuts to critical federal dollars will fuel competition—rather than collaboration—between labs.

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Weisman writes:

The reductions would be felt most acutely in the labs of Harvard Medical and its 16 affiliated hospitals, five of which rank among the largest hospital recipients of grants from the NIH’s $30 billion annual budget. Research money would also be pared at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Tufts University School of Medicine, and Boston University School of Medicine, all of which have hospital affiliates, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and more than a dozen other schools, hospitals, and independent organizations.

Leaders of these institutions cite the impact of the prospective budget reductions on patients and the region’s economy. Medical research has helped attract a cluster of pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology start-ups eager to license intellectual property that comes from lab discoveries here.

“Cutting the NIH budget in a weak economy is like jettisoning an engine on an airplane that’s losing altitude,” said Peter L. Slavin, president of Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the nation’s largest hospital recipient of NIH grants. Slavin fears Mass. General alone could lose $30 million a year in NIH funding, starting in January.