Column: NIH budget cuts threaten research, innovation

Stephen M. Lanier, Jack D. Sobel and M. Roy Wilson

The White House proposes major reductions in National Institutes of Health funding for medical research, including a funding cap of 10 percent on federal Facilities & Administration — or F&A — costs. The NIH is our nation’s primary research funding mechanism to fight diseases and health challenges, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, premature birth, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, to name just a few.

Reduction in federal support of F&A costs would compromise the core mission of our research universities, which are the lifeblood of biomedical and technology advances in this country, and will have devastating long-term, negative impact on our understanding of diseases and their treatment, as well as our ability to be prepared for future epidemics and unknown health risks.

F&A funds partially offset expenses incurred by universities for infrastructure and operational costs (e.g. maintaining research facilities, regulatory oversight of research, access to advanced technology and instrumentation, information technology platforms, clinical research infrastructure) required to carry out the grants and contracts awarded to universities by the NIH.

With the proposed cut, Wayne State University alone would lose $14 million annually in federal research funding, which would severely impact our mission as an urban-serving, Tier 1 public research university in Detroit. We would not be able to sustain a robust research and discovery environment.

The immediate impact of F&A cuts hits especially hard on universities like Wayne State and other public, urban-serving research universities that lead large academic health centers. Such universities (faculty, students, staff and leadership) are aspirational in so many aspects of their mission, and often are not operating with large endowments. They simply overachieve on a daily basis.

Wayne State University’s core mission is to create and advance knowledge, prepare a diverse student body to thrive, and positively impact local and global communities. Central to this mission is the support and nurturing of a robust research and discovery ecosystem for our faculty, students and communities. Such a research and discovery environment includes rich scientific inquiry, advanced technologies, robust research platforms and facilities, intellectual rigor and scholarly creative activities in their broadest sense by which all can be enriched and to which all will have the opportunity to contribute. This ecosystem truly impacts so many aspects of the broad communities that we serve, including student career opportunities, economic development, job creation, health disparities, prenatal and maternal health, cancer survivorship, access to the latest therapies through clinical trials and much more. This aspirational mindset is embedded in the fabric of our country and must be nurtured.

All of this would be at risk with the proposed reduction in F&A funds from the NIH.

Stephen M. Lanier, Ph.D. is vice president of research at Wayne State University. Jack D. Sobel, M.D., is dean of the Wayne State University School of Medicine. M. Roy Wilson, M.D., is president of Wayne State University and chair-elect of the Board of Directors of the Association of American Medical Colleges.