Top heart doctors and researchers reportedly described President Donald Trump’s proposed 20% cut to the National Institutes of Health budget as “chilling” and a “catastrophe” at the American College of Cardiology meeting this month.
Many expressed fears that as drug companies shift their focus to oncology and rare diseases, NIH-funded research will become more important to cardiology and the proposed $5.8 billion cut could leave life-saving research in a lurch.
“There are trials that we have to do that will never be funded by drug companies. We rely on NIH,” Cleveland Clinic’s head of preventive cardiology Dr. Leslie Cho said, according to Reuters.
The cardiologists noted that many Nobel Prize-winning discoveries that led to the development of successful, widely-used heart drugs were funded by the NIH.
“I’m a little concerned that there hasn’t been a complete eruption that the NIH is being targeted for such substantial cuts. This is a landmine waiting to explode,” former American Heart Association president Dr. Clyde Yancy said. “Laboratories will be shut down; personnel would be released; ideas would be left incomplete; proposals would go unaddressed. We just can’t afford to have the pace of scientific discovery slowed down like this.”
But analysts pointed out that the Congress ultimately decides the budget and they could reject the NIH cuts.
“Aside from defense and vets, NIH is one of the most universally loved programs on Capitol Hill,” Capital Alpha Partners analyst Rob Smith said.
Dr. Patrick O’Gara, former ACC president, said massive cuts to the NIH budget could also hurt local economies that thrive off of government-funded biotech and pharmaceutical research.
“That will eventually trickle down to the workers who are able to enjoy access to good jobs that have been driven by this biotechnology juggernaut, much of which relates to the level of research that can be accomplished,” O’Gara said. “I’m hopeful that this is just an opening gambit and Congress … will look at things differently.”
ACC President Dr. Mary Walsh called for the conference’s attendees to rally in opposition against the proposed cuts.
“All of medicine and all of investigation need to make our voices heard,” she said. “This could become a unifying theme. Science matters!”
Cleveland Clinic’s chief of cardiology Dr. Steven Nissen pointed to Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein’s early work that resulted in statins – a widely-used cholesterol drug that prevents heart attacks – and said that NIH-funded research has laid the foundation for many life-saving drugs.
“How many millions of heart attacks and lives have been changed by that. If you don’t fund the Browns and Goldsteins of the world, where do the next discoveries come from?” Nissen said.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.