Austin researchers say proposed NIH budget cuts are a mistake

Remi Barbier is the President & CEO of Pain Therapeutics, Inc. (Courtesy Amanda Brandeis)
Remi Barbier is the President & CEO of Pain Therapeutics, Inc. (KXAN Photo/Amanda Brandeis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In an effort to ramp up defense spending, President Trump is proposing some major cuts in other areas, including health.

In his budget blueprint, President Trump wants to cut $5.8 billion from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 20 percent of its budget. Trump says the budget includes a major reorganization of NIH and aims to focus resources on the highest priority research and training activities.

Several biomedical research companies in Austin rely on NIH funding, like Pain Therapeutics, Inc. The company focuses on finding treatments for areas of the central nervous system, like Alzheimer’s Disease and severe chronic pain.

“For us it’s the ultimate intellectual challenge that has a very practical side to it,” said Remi Barbier, president & CEO of Pain Therapeutics. “Which is if you live up to the challenge, you get to cure a person of Alzheimer’s disease or severe chronic pain.”

Barbier says it’s incredibly costly and time-consuming to find and test treatments.

“About $1 billion and 15 to 20 years of your life, that’s not an exaggeration. That’s the average it takes for a drug to go from a test tube to a CVS or Walgreens pharmacy,” said Barbier.

While they have some investors, the biomedical research company relies on funds from the NIH. In 2015, they received a $1.7 million grant for Alzheimer’s research. Barbier says they’ve had great success, but are running out of funding.

They’ve applied for a second NIH grant to study the drug in humans, but are still waiting.

“Scientifically it passed all the metrics,” said Barbier. “What NIH has told us is they don’t know where the funding is going to come from.”

If they don’t get funding, Barbier says they likely can’t continue their Alzheimer’s research.

In 2016, the NIH granted 21 Austin institutions funding, for a total of over $75 million. The University of Texas at Austin got the bulk of that funding, nearly $65 million.

Austin organizations with the highest amount of grants in 2016

 Organization  Funding  Awards
 University of Texas at Austin  $64,861,764  209
 Xeris Pharmaceuticals, Inc.  $1,649,216  2
 Pain Therapeutics, Inc.  $1,500,000  1
 Windmill Cardiovascular Systems, Inc.  $1,397,515  3
 Ringful, LLC  $1,114,670  2
 Certichem  $768,816  2
 Asuragen, Inc.  $619,938  1
 Bioo Scientific Corportation  $568,940  2
 Nanohybrids, Inc.  $496,857  2
 Silicon Audio, Inc.  $490,980  1
Dr. William Rice, Senior Vice President of Clinical Innovation, sent this statement:
     St. David’s HealthCare participates in a number of federally funded research studies. We value the role this research plays in our ability to discover new treatments, medicines and surgical techniques for the patients and communities we serve.”
KXAN reached out to St. David’s HealthCare. While they are not a direct recipient of NIH funds, they participate in a number of clinical trials that are federally funded.
Despite proposed cuts to the NIH, President Trump wants to boost funding in other areas of health.
In his budget proposal, Trump wants an additional $500 million to the Department of Health and Human services to “expand opioid misuse prevention efforts and to increase access to treatment and recovery services to help Americans who are misusing opioids get the help they need.”

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