President Clinton's fiscal year 1997 budget unveiled Tuesdayproposed a 4 percent increase in funding for the National Institutes ofHealth (NIH).

The $12.4 billion budget request is an increase of $467 million overthe estimated $11.9 billion NIH budget this fiscal year. Much of thatincrease ($310 million) is earmarked for construction of a newClinical Research Center.

The NIH said its two highest priorities are construction of the centerand the funding of medical research through research project grants.

The proposed NIH funding assumes the appropriations of $71 billionfor the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, andEducation, which funds the NIH. The figure, like NIH's proposedbudget, can undergo a number of changes in Congress before finalfunding targets are decided.

"The committee generally has viewed research favorably," aCongressional source told BioWorld Today. "We would like tomaintain a stable funding path for NIH."

While the fiscal year 1996 budget of $11.9 billion is technically notpassed since this year's budget still is operating under continuingresolutions, the NIH was provided full-year appropriations in an earlyJanuary resolution.

NIH's proposed budget for fiscal 1997, which starts Oct. 1 of thisyear, shows support of 6,827 competing research project grants(RPG), 207 more than in 1996. Support for RPGs will increase 2.6percent over 1996. Total support for RPGs, including small businessinnovation research grants and small business technology transferawards, will increase 3.2 percent over the fiscal year 1996 estimate.

Chuck Ludlam, vice president for government relations for theBiotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said BIO doesn't takestands on specific parts of the NIH budget regarding where themoney is spent.

"We're delighted to see an increase proposed in the president'sbudget," Ludlam said. "We're happy for the trend. We view NIHbasic research, both the intramural and extramural elements, as afundamental part of the drug development process."

The proposed center would replace the existing 500-bed, 40-year-oldfacility in Bethesda, Md. The NIH said it must address the "failinginfrastructure" of the facility that "even now is functionally obsolete,inefficient to operate and expensive to maintain."

The NIH wants $310 million to construct a replacement 250-bedhospital and associated laboratories. The NIH said about 20,000patients each year are referred to the center and account for 65,000in-patient days and 70,000 outpatient visits per year. Nearly 1,000clinical research protocols are ongoing at the center at any one time.

Changes recommended by a team commissioned by the Departmentof Health and Human Services can be implemented only with a newlyconfigured center. Also, the center is seeking authority to collect andkeep third-party reimbursements. Estimated payments of $18 millionfrom that plan are included in the president's proposed 1997 budget.

The NIH identified the following areas as deserving of additionalsupport in next year's budget: the biology of brain disorders, newapproaches to pathogenesis, new preventive strategies againstdisease, genetic medicine, and advanced instrumentation andcomputers in medicine and research. n

-- Jim Shrine

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.