Medical Research Funding Survives as Democrats Cut Covid Money


President Joe Biden’s proposed new biomedical research entity would receive $1 billion under the congressional spending plan released Wednesday.

The research funding survived a last-minute cut of $15 billion for Covid testing and treatment supplies. The Senate expects to finalize the spending bill (H.R. 2471) next week. The current funding law expires Friday but the House is expected to pass a four-day stopgap to avoid a government shutdown and give the Senate time to deal with the omnibus legislation.

The money for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, comes almost a year after Biden first asked for $6.5 billion to fund the new entity over three years. The funding also comes about a week after Biden called on Congress to fund ARPA-H in his State of the Union address.

Authorization in Process

ARPA-H still needs to be authorized through separate legislation. Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said they’ve ironed out differences on whether ARPA-H should sit within the National Institutes of Health or as a distinct entity within the health department, clearing a critical hurdle in moving forthcoming authorizing legislation out of the committee.

The spending bill appears to make both options possible. It separates ARPA-H funding from the NIH request—previous spending plans had lumped them together—while allowing for a transfer that could make ARPA-H sit within the storied biomedical research agency if that’s what lawmakers ultimately decide.

The heads of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said Wednesday that they’re pursuing authorizing legislation for ARPA-H.

NIH Funding

Medical research funding outside ARPA-H also got a boost in the bill. The NIH would see an increase to $45 billion, or $2.25 billion more than the enacted 2021 level, House Appropriations Commitee Chair Rosa DeLauro‘s office said. That increase aligns with funding boosts over the past several years, which generally have ranged between $1 billion to $3 billion.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said NIH funding has increased by $15.4 billion, or 51%, since he took over as the top Republican on the Senate Labor-HHS spending panel in 2015. The Missouri senator, who is retiring this year, made NIH funding his priority.

“The foundation for our rapid response to the pandemic started years prior, with a pattern of significant NIH funding increases that supported the development of a nationwide network of nearly 500,000 researchers. The COVID-19 response also benefited from the federal government becoming a more active partner in research and development,” Blunt said.

The spending bill “helps make health care more affordable by rebuilding our public health infrastructure, investing in lifesaving biomedical research, and confronts urgent health crises, including maternal health, mental health, and opioid abuse,” DeLauro said.


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