Funding Genomics: A Time to Celebrate?

In a very thorough 6-page article published in yesterday’s edition of genomeweb (registration required), Ciara Curtin analyzed the impact of Washington’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on the state of genomics. Here’s a summary of some of her salient facts:

 Basic science research received 2.4 of the $787 billion package
 Genomics research received 5.5% of funds allocated to basic research ($1B)
 14,000 grants (out of 30,000 submissions) were funded by NIH
 By March 2010 NIH spent more than half of its budget allocated for scientific research ($4.6B spent)
 Large portions of funds were spend on building centers and purchasing shared instrumentation
 More than 1,200 shared instrument requests were for next-generation DNA sequencers

In order to stimulate spending (as opposed to savings) the NIH imposed a 2-year deadline for spending the grant funds. As such, the majority of funds went to well-defined projects that were ready to “hit the ground running.” While the much needed funding injected a healthy dose of cash into scientific research, it may have created a bubble effect which is in danger of bursting after 2 years. Furthermore, the short-term nature of the funds inherently overlooked the development of promising young investigators and was not spent on training programs which are needed to develop the next generation of scientists.

Curtin also suggests that it will likely be difficult to measure the full impact of the stimulus package on scientific research. Although grant recipients must submit a quarterly report which includes the status of the project and how many jobs were created The reporting process itself takes about 40% of a PI’s time which is quite inefficient and has a negative impact on the quality of their research. (But avid readers of the American Biotechnologist already know that the ways PIs monitor their spending and manage their research budgets are inefficient. See the blog post “are universities stupid” and the accompanying video by Morgan on Science for details).

I was recently speaking to a colleague of mine who is involved in several next-generation DNA sequencing projects. He agreed that there certainly is a lot of excitement in the industry these days and that the stimulus package has significantly increased quality of scientific innovation. Will the excitement be enough to propel us forward when funds run out? Who knows? But it certainly has livened up the mood of scientists who were bemoaning the state of scientific funding several years ago.

How has the stimulus package affected your research? What metrics are you using to measure its effects?

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