Medical research funding faces possible budget delay

April 28, 2008

Fort Lauderdale, FL-Making the case for an increase in National Eye Institute (NEI) funding is one of the goals of non-profit advocacy coalition National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) and its education-oriented affiliate, the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR). The organizations, however, do not expect the budget for fiscal year 2009 to be finalized until February, after the presidential election, said James Jorkasky, NAEVR/AEVR executive director, at a breakfast briefing held by the organizations.

Making the case for an increase in National Eye Institute (NEI) funding is one of the goals of non-profit advocacy coalition National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) and its education-oriented affiliate, the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR). The organizations, however, do not expect the budget for fiscal year 2009 to be finalized until February, after the presidential election, said James Jorkasky, NAEVR/AEVR executive director, at a breakfast briefing held by the organizations.

“Congress would rather wait until after the election and see what happens then,” Jorkasky said. The timing of the budget approval is important, he added. Until financial resources are certain, the governmental bodies that distribute medical research funding will proceed cautiously in allocating their current funds. This caution will affect research and employment at the various institutions that receive funding from the government, he said.

NAEVR is asking Congress to increase both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NEI budgets by 6.6%, which represents the biomedical inflation rate of 3.6% plus 3% to begin compensating for the 18% loss in purchasing power over the previous five funding cycles, Jorkasky said. This percentage would equate to a $1.9 billion increase for the NIH and a $44 million increase for the NEI over fiscal year 2008 levels of funding. The Senate passed an amendment 95-4 in support of a funding increase, and 179 members of the House have signed a letter in support of the proposed increase, he said.

Another year of no increase in funding could be in store in fiscal year 2009, however. “Flat funding is really negative funding when you put into that mix the inflation rate of roughly 3.5%,” Jorkasky said.

Regarding the presidential primary and election, he said that the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other organizations continue to push for a medical research-specific debate during the election process, during or after the primary season. Also, Jorkasky said, Research!America has launched a Web site, www.yourcandidatesyourhealth.org, that features presidential candidates’ responses  to a questionnaire about topics related to health and medical research. NAEVR/AEVR will be working with Research!America to promote the site, he said.

Other initiatives being undertaken by NAEVR/AEVR, Jorkasky said, include assisting the NEI in efforts to collaborate further with the FDA, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; conducting congressional briefings and education, including an update to the Research!America/NAEVR fact sheet; creating a separate fact sheet about diseases of the aging eye; and expanding efforts to increase Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans’ Affairs research programs, especially those related to traumatic brain injury and its effects.

Numerous opportunities exist for potential funding through the DOD, he said. Congress seems especially interested in translational research, which can be applied quickly to treat active military personnel, Jorkasky added.

“We’ve learned a lot from the military setting that gets applied to the civilian setting,” he said, adding that research on combat-related traumatic brain injury might be applicable to civilians involved in car accidents.

Jorkasky encouraged attendees of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) annual meeting to visit the NAEVR/AEVR booth (at the end of aisle 800) in the exhibit hall to learn more about the organizations’ ongoing efforts and ways to participate. NAEVR’s publication detailing the economic impact of diseases of the aging eye, “Silver Book: Vision Loss,” is available there and also is downloadable from the organization’s Web site, www.eyeresearch.org, he said.