Dear Republicans, If You’re Worried About NIH’s NCATS Taking Money Away From Basic Sciences…

…the Mad Biologist has a suggestion. Before we get to that, some background. NCATS is a new NIH center with the following mission:

Currently, many costly, time-consuming bottlenecks exist in the translational pipeline. Working in partnership with the public and private sectors, the Center will develop innovative ways to reduce, remove or bypass these bottlenecks. This will speed the delivery of new drugs, diagnostics and medical devices to patients.

NCATS is formed primarily by uniting and realigning existing NIH programs that play key roles in translational science. The Center will not be a drug development company, but will focus on using science to create powerful new tools and technologies that can be adopted widely by translational researchers in all sectors.

There’s legitimate debate about whether or not NCATS will duplicate what drug companies do, but at an insufficient scale. And then there are the things Republicans worry about:

Members of the House Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies subcommittee pressed Collins on whether his plans for NCATS will jeopardize basic research at the biomedical agency.

“Can you ensure that the development of NCATS will not take resources away from basic sciences?” Rep. Michael Simpson, an Idaho Republican, asked, echoing subcommittee chairman Denny Rehberg’s opening comments

Representative Cynthia Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, interrupted Collins to insist that he explain how the $64 million increase proposed for NCATS in 2013 can’t be seen as being largely funded by a cut to the Institutional Development Award (IDEA) program. The NIH in 2013 has proposed cutting $50.5 million from the program, which funds biomedical investigators, trainees and infrastructure in 23 largely rural states that have historically experienced low application success rates for NIH grants…

Rehberg, whose rural state is also a recipient of IDEA funds, said that, for his part, “I can’t imagine supporting NIH’s request to reduce the base of the IDEA program,” which the subcommittee in 2012 boosted to $276 million from $229 million.

There’s a simple solution here: spend more money and eliminate the tradeoff. That’s the groovy thing about being an issuer of currency versus a user of currency. You can never run out of money. Would an additional ~$100 million spent on NCATS (as opposed to raiding the NIH budget) cause a massive misallocation of personnel, industrial capacity, or raw resources? No. Massive, runaway inflation? Nope. If you want money spent in your state or district, you might actually have to, you know, spend the fucking money.

This is a very easy problem to fix. And a bunch of congressmen in the majority party could do something about this. Just saying.

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