The NIH is asking for about $8.8 billion to fund new Covid-19 projects that look beyond vaccines and other treatments and into the broader societal impacts of the disease.
“We have been fortunate in a couple of previous [spending] supplements to receive some funds,” National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins said in an interview. “But there are a lot of other things that we at NIH have been trying to see if we can stand up and work on, which are not going to be easy to do at the level we’d like to without additional support.”
The NIH has mostly focused on therapies and vaccines in responding to the virus. But Collins and other agency directors want additional funding to take a broader look at the longer-term effects of the worst pandemic in more than a century. The $8.8 billion would represent an extra 20% of the agency’s typical annual $41 billion budget and could be meted out in annual allotments or in supplemental spending bills.
Collins told Bloomberg Law specific research efforts include the social, behavioral, and economic consequences of people sheltering at home.
“That clearly is a major consequence of Covid-19. There has not been a systematic effort to try to collect that kind of information in order to inform us about this in the future or even as this process is going forward,” he said.
The House panel that oversees NIH spending is scheduled Tuesday to mark up its fiscal year 2021 spending package. The NIH would get a record $5.5 billion increase under the spending plan released Monday by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. That would bring the agency’s budget up to $47 billion. Both Democratic and Republican leaders on the subcommittee have boosted the agency’s medical research funding by about 40% over the last five years.
The NIH estimates it’s already lost about $10 billion worth of research on other disease when labs had to shut down due to the pandemic.
The medical research agency has received about $3 billion in supplemental Covid-19 response funding for work on medical treatments and preventive measures, according to remarks from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Labor-HHS panel and the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee, during a July 2 hearing on vaccine research.
Much of that funding has gone to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for clinical trials as well RADx, a project to ramp coronavirus testing by setting up a shark-tank like program.
Collins recently told Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee, the NIH has lined up several initiatives over the last few weeks, including:
- $1.6 billion in projects that involve many of the NIH’s 27 institutes and centers;
- $2.2 billion for specific institute initiatives; and
- $5 billion in an additional set of ideas of shovel-ready projects.
More Studies of Children
The NIH also wants to fund more studies on a disease linked to Covid-19 in children known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), which causes different body parts to become inflamed. It is uncommon but very severe, Collins said.
“We don’t even really quite understand the cause of it. It doesn’t seem to happen during the acute infection,” he said. “It seems to happen a couple, three weeks later maybe at some sort of immune reaction gone awry.”
Other projects would create a more effective clinical trial coordination system because “right now we’re kind of patching that together and we could certainly use more resources to make that a more effective system” as well better ways to manage Covid-19 data, he said.
“All those sort of feed into the way in which we kind of came up with what our wish list would be if we were lucky enough to have wishes that would come true. And so being asked by the chairman of the appropriation subcommittee, I figured I would answer,” he said.