As Congress goes into recess and back to the campaign trail, biomedical research advocates are left with a continuing resolution that maintains the status quo and a plethora of dismal reports on the state of the nation’s research enterprise. While some patient advocacy groups may be forecasting a more positive outlook (The Hill's Congress blog, 9/17/14), the view from researchers is decidedly dim. In fact, the only piece of legislation improving funding for biomedical research was part investment ($12.6 million per year for pediatric cancer research) part political stunt.

The FY 14 budget of the National Institutes of Health, the primary funder of biomedical research in the U.S, was $29.9 billion, but still $1.6 billion below the FY12 pre-sequestration level of funding. The purchasing power of the NIH has decreased almost 20 percent over the past decade. This is despite the fact that every $1 of NIH funding generates over $2.21 in economic growth, and each NIH grant supports about seven jobs. Furthermore, a recent report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences shows the U.S. is falling behind global competitors and is now in 10th place as measured by investment in research and development. Equally alarming, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s “Unlimited Potential, Vanishing Opportunity” report indicates that one-in-five scientists in the U.S. are considering moving abroad. Finally, the Budget Control Act mandates discretionary budget caps that make it impossible to substantially increase NIH funding for the next decade.

The lone bright spots in the gloomy past came predominantly from political stunts. During the height of the government shut down last fall, we saw an hour of debate in which members of Congress from both parties took to the floor of the House expressing their deep support for biomedical research and the NIH. These words came while debating a bill which would have exempted the NIH from the government shutdown, a move that more political then supportive. In the spring, Congress passed the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, which provides $12.6 million a year, for ten years, for pediatric cancer research at the NIH. The bill diverts funds from party conventions to research. Every dollar counts, but while members of Congress hyper-extended their shoulders patting themselves on the back, they failed to realize the proposal restores only 0.7% of funding researchers lost last year alone.

While many reports and individuals have spoken to the dire conditions now facing the biomedical research enterprise, there seems to be little progress, or willingness in Congress to combat this rapidly growing problem. As studies have shown that scientific and technological advancement are the primary drivers of GDP growth in the U.S., the dismal state of biomedical research funding cannot continue without harming the overall economy. It is unclear what will encourage legislators to change their views and move from stating their support for research to enacting legislation to sustain the enterprise.

Unfortunately, given the current political climate, it does not appear that brighter days are ahead for biomedical research advocates.

Corb is director of Public Affairs for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.