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Biomedicine to sell itself as a local hero

Lobbyists plan to push the economic benefits of medical research.

Lobbyists for biomedical science are changing tactics in an attempt to reverse what they see as a worrying decline in funding. As well as talking generally about the benefits of biomedical research, they plan to tailor their arguments to local economic issues, close to lawmakers' hearts.

In his 6 February budget request, President George W. Bush asked Congress to keep funding flat for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2007. This would mark the fourth consecutive year that NIH funding has not kept pace with inflation, and advocates are worried. “We're going to have to change the way we've done things in the past,” says Jon Retzlaff, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).

Lobbyists say they aim to dispel the notion that the NIH should be satisfied with the fact that its budget was doubled between 1999 and 2003. They claim that, because of inflation, the agency now has 10% less purchasing power than in 2003, and is on track to issue 3,000 fewer grants in 2007 than in 2003. They also argue that the budget doubling spurred many young people to enter biomedical science. The erosion of that money is leaving these new researchers out in the cold.

“We're eating our seed corn,” says FASEB president Bruce Bistrian, a molecular biologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. “We could lose a generation of researchers, or at least several years' worth.”

So advocacy groups are going local, by showing lawmakers how NIH funding has benefited their states and home districts. Retzlaff says that FASEB will start with districts served by members of the powerful House budget committee, chaired by Republican Jim Nussle of Iowa. And the Association of American Medical Colleges will emphasize that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is the largest private employer in western Pennsylvania.

“There are a lot of places around the country that would like to emulate Pittsburgh,” says Dave Moore of the association's office of government relations. “It's important for us to talk about the role the NIH plays as a driver for local economies.”

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Check, E. Biomedicine to sell itself as a local hero. Nature 439, 769 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/439769a

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