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NIH to cut research grants, services due to sequestration

The National Institutes of Health will award about 700 fewer competitive research grants this year than last year and slash other services to deal with budget cuts mandated by sequestration, according to a report released Monday night by the federal medical research agency.

However, there are no current plans to furlough or lay off employees at the Bethesda-based agency, which includes 27 institutes and centers under its umbrella. The Department of Health and Human Services is scaling back administrative service contracts rather than reducing employee salaries, which make up 7 percent of the NIH budget, according to the release.

The sequester cuts 5 percent, or $1.55 billion, of the agency’s fiscal 2013 budget. The cuts must be spread evenly across all programs and activities, meaning all areas of medical research will be affected, the report said.

More than 80 percent of the agency’s budget is allocated to grant recipients — some 300,000 research personnel at about 2,500 universities and institutions across the country.

Reductions to existing grants will vary, depending on the funding situation of the particular institute or center that administers the grant. On average, there will be a 4.7 percent cut, the report said.

For every six new grant applications submitted, only one will be funded, the report said.

Cuts to NIH funding directly impact “hundreds of thousands of American jobs” that are supported by grant dollars, according to the report.

Marylanders are disproportionately affected, not only because the agency’s headquarters are in Montgomery County but because a large percentage of the workforce is concentrated in the medical industry and other research-related fields.

The Bethesda campus is home to about 6,000 researchers working in the agency’s Intramural Research labs, and the report said the sequester’s impact on these programs will be “substantial, especially because it applies retroactively to spending since Oct. 1, 2012. That can double the effect — a full year’s cut has to be absorbed in less than half a year.”

The NIH Clinical Center, a hospital entirely dedicated to clinical research also located on the main campus, will admit about 750 fewer new patients than last year, although services will not be reduced for current patients.

The center will serve about 9,945 new patients in 2013, compared to 10,695 in 2012.

The release said although many of the decreases are due to sequestration, “NIH funding is always a dynamic situation with multiple drivers.”

Additionally, in 2013, there will be no increase in the stipends provided to recipients of the National Research Service Awards.