August 15, 2013
Photo: Stephen I. Katz M.D. Ph.D.
Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D.

Dear Colleagues:

In follow-up to last month’s letter about grant applications that NIH receives and the peer review process through which they are evaluated, I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on the NIAMS’ budget. Ultimately, the Institute’s budget dictates the number of outstanding grants that we can fund. Like the rest of NIH, NIAMS is operating under the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (Public Law 113-6), as well as the Budget Control Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-25). The mandatory budget cuts required by the Budget Control Act (which you may have heard referred to as “sequestration”) are having a real impact on the NIAMS, on investigators across the Nation whose work relies on federal funds, and on patients and their families who are eagerly awaiting the next advances that will improve their lives.

In the months leading up to the approval of our fiscal year 2013 budget, NIAMS consulted with researchers from a variety of disciplines and our Advisory Council, which includes both scientists and lay members, about how to try to mitigate some of the difficulties associated with flat or decreased budgets. What we heard from the community was that it was better for the Institute to continue to fund as many grants as reasonably possible, albeit at lower levels, rather than to fully fund a smaller number of projects. By handling the sequestration in this way, more researchers will be able to continue to keep their labs open and to train the next generation of investigators. This decision is reflected in our FY13 Funding Plan, and information about the NIH-wide effects on grants is summarized in a Fact Sheet on the Impact of Sequestration on the National Institutes of Health.

Medical breakthroughs do not happen overnight. In almost all instances, breakthrough discoveries result from years of incremental research to understand how a disease starts, progresses, and can best be treated. For example, the new drug tofacitinib, which the FDA approved last November, targets a protein discovered by a NIAMS investigator in 1993. And, much of the work leading to the FDA’s recent approval of anakinra for children who have neonatal-onset multisystem inflammatory disease (NOMID) was conducted by another team of NIAMS researchers who had been studying the disease for more than a decade. The basic research that we are supporting today will serve as the foundation for new diagnostic tests, therapies, and prevention strategies that will improve the lives of those who are affected by arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin conditions. Reducing this research lessens our chances of making these future strides in health care.

While NIAMS’ fiscal year 2014 budget is still unknown, both the President’s Budget and the Senate Appropriations Bill that includes NIH call for increases to our funding. In fact, calls to preserve and protect NIH’s funds have been bipartisan and coming from both Houses of Congress. In these tough economic times, there is growing recognition that NIH’s biomedical research not only expands scientific knowledge and improves health, but that it helps drive job creation and economic growth. In 2011, NIH funding supported 432,000 jobs and contributed more than $60 billion to the U.S. economy, and it is helping to train the next generation of health scientists.

Sequestration is resulting in fewer funded grants and may ultimately slow scientific progress, but I want to assure you that NIAMS remains firmly committed to investing in the best and most impactful rheumatic, musculoskeletal, and skin science. While budgets may be uncertain, our mission is not. I encourage researchers from across our fields to submit their best proposals and continue the good work that has improved, and is continuing to improve, people’s lives across the Nation.

Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health

Last Reviewed: 08/15/2013