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July 01, 2020

NIH director says pandemic could cost $10B in research

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The COVID-19 pandemic could cost the U.S. $10 billion in National Institutes of Health–funded research.

NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, testified May 7 before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in a hearing on efforts to improve and expand testing for the COVID-19 virus.

“If you add up what this is going to cost just in terms of the lost productivity, the need to keep people employed, the estimates are something like $10 billion of NIH-funded research is going to disappear because of the way in which this virus has affected everybody, requiring this kind of distancing and sending people home,” Dr. Collins said.

Dr. Collins delivered the estimate in response to questions from Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who asked how the NIH planned to help scientists with shuttered research projects and graduate students with delays in program completion.

Sen. Cassidy said one Louisiana university spent $20 million extending research programs for graduate students. He noted that the NIH relaxed budgetary and spending guidelines and allowed no-cost extensions to grants and contracts but expressed concern those measures were insufficient.

Dr. Collins said the shutdowns in the nation’s scientific enterprise were a heartache that extended to his own research laboratory, affecting scientists who planned to conduct experiments on diabetes and aging.

The NIH spends about $42 billion annually on medical research, according to agency information. It funds more than 60,000 research and training grants each year, supporting about 300,000 researchers at 2,500-plus institutions.