After years of shrinking paylines, Alzheimer’s researchers are finally getting some seriously good news. The proposed 2016 federal budget allocates an additional $350 million for Alzheimer’s research, a 60 percent boost that will bring total funding to $936 million. The budget passed the House and Senate today, and pundits expect President Obama will sign it as early as this afternoon. With this increase, total Alzheimer’s research dollars will have more than doubled in the five years since the U.S. National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) passed (see Dec 2010 news). The 2016 budget also expands total funding for the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion, sets aside an additional $85 million for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, and swells the Alzheimer’s research budget at the Department of Defense by $15 million (see Feb 2013 news; Sep 2011 news).
Alzheimer’s researchers hailed the news. “This sends a positive message to younger scientists, who have been leaving the field in droves, that they can initiate and sustain their research careers investigating this disease … I am grateful to Congress for finally seeing the necessity of this action,” Gary Landreth at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, wrote to Alzforum. At the same time, researchers noted that the 2016 research dollars are only the first step. “This is a terrific shot in the arm, short-term, but we must continue to advocate to increase the funding for Alzheimer’s and the NIH in the annual federal budget. We are unlikely to have a meaningful intervention for dementia in the next few years, so we need to be able to go the marathon distance,” Samuel Gandy at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, wrote.
Since NAPA passed, Alzheimer’s research has notched small yearly gains. These amounted to $50 million in 2012, $40 million in 2013, $100 million in 2014, and $25 million in 2015, according to the NIH (see also Feb 2012 news; Sep 2013 news; Jan 2014 news). Together, the awards nudged up total research funding about 25 percent over four years.
The size of the current boost comes from continuing advocacy efforts, and may owe something to the 2014 Alzheimer’s Accountability Act, as well (see Apr 2014 news). This act directed the NIH to prepare a Professional Judgment Budget, also known as a bypass budget, to spell out how much money would be needed to meet the milestones specified in the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease. This type of budget goes straight to the president’s desk, bypassing bureaucratic channels, and has only been used for cancer and HIV previously (see Aug 2015 news).
The NIH recently prepared its first NAPA bypass budget. It calls for total Alzheimer’s funding of $961 million for fiscal year 2017. Importantly, the budget lays out how this money could be put to immediate use to advance the science. Goals include funding new clinical trials, developing new technologies such as wearable sensors to monitor disease progression, and investigating how factors such as inflammation, epigenetics, and sleep quality affect pathology. This detailed plan likely helped persuade Congress to set aside 2016 funds to achieve these goals, said Jennifer Zeitzer, deputy director of public affairs at FASEB. Next year, the proposed 2017 bypass budget of $961 million, which adds $323 million to the base for that year, will allow researchers to continue to build on research begun with 2016 dollars, Maria Carrillo at the Alzheimer’s Association wrote to Alzforum. The NIH will prepare annual bypass budgets through 2025, the target date set by the National Plan for finding effective treatments for AD.—Madolyn Bowman Rogers
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