Massachusetts General Hospital is moving to protect its most promising scientific research programs from sequestration-related federal funding cuts. “We have both a defined plan in place and the resources to help deal with the issue,” says Robert E. Kingston, PhD, chairman of Mass General’s Executive Committee on Research (ECOR) and chief of Molecular Biology. The goal, he adds, is to “make sure the research community at MGH stays at its incredibly strong level.”
Sequestration refers to across-the-board federal funding cuts that went into effect on March 1, following contentious budget battles in Washington. As a result, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a key source of federal research funding, has cut its budget by 5% and has estimated it will fund 700 fewer scientific research projects this year.
In addition to addressing sequestration, the Mass General effort is designed to soften the impact of a longer-term tightening of federal funding for such research.
Key elements of the strategy include bolstering internal support for MGH researchers, devoting additional resources to research management and streamlining avenues for potential collaboration with corporations and other interesting parties. Mass General also plans to redouble efforts to attract new charitable giving to support its MGH Research Scholar Awards Program.
Maintaining Strong Research Programs
Spread across 20 departments and five thematic centers, Mass General’s annual research budget totals about $776 million. About half comes from the federal government, primarily NIH. Indeed, Mass General receives more NIH funding than any other independent U.S. hospital.
Mass General officials estimate sequestration itself is likely to cause a $17 million decline in federal research funding to the hospital over two years.
Those funding cuts come amid broader indications that NIH funding for scientific research may be harder to get for years to come. After climbing steadily during the late 1990s and early 2000s, NIH funding for scientific research leveled off and actually fell by nearly 10% in fiscal 2012. Outstanding NIH grant applications that might have succeeded a few years ago are not being funded and payments made under existing grants have been reduced.
“It is a very challenging time for everybody in the country in scientific research,” Dr. Kingston says, adding that there is a significant amount of related Mass General funding at risk. “We need to figure out how to keep this running smoothly so that all of the strong research programs can keep going.”
Increasing Visibility and Collaboration
To offset some of federal funding cuts for scientific research, Mass General has drawn on surplus revenues set aside in years past to increase the availability of so-called interim support. Such funds are used to help researchers with highly rated but unfunded federal grant applications. The hospital is also exploring ways to help researchers whose existing federal grants facing funding cuts.
Established in the 1940s, ECOR serves as the central body of research governance at Mass General. To complement its efforts, Mass General plans to establish a research institute designed to help oversee MGH research and enhance national and international recognition of it. The new entity will be designed to enhance collaboration among Mass General researchers and provide them with more access to administrative resources. Another goal is to create a more effective single point of contact for companies and other outside parties interested in scientific collaboration.
Dr. Kingston also underscored the importance of generating additional philanthropic support for the MGH Research Scholar Awards Program. Funded by charitable gifts, the awards are made to extraordinary MGH scientists who are deemed likely to make transformative advances in scientific thinking and medical practices.
Overcoming Anxiety from Funding Cuts
Each recipient receives five years of support of $100,000 per year. Although the program welcomes gifts of all sizes, individual donors who make a gift of $500,000 may choose to name a Research Scholar Award. And the impact of such gifts will be doubled thanks to an anonymous donor who has offered to match every $500,000 raised with an equal amount, up $10 million.
For participants, the MGH Research Scholar Awards Program can help overcome the anxiety caused by federal funding cuts and potential uncertainty involving other sources of support.
Since 2011, the program has announced 22 scholars. It “has already played a significant role in retaining some of our very best people, and in increasing the morale and excitement about research within the hospital, and in getting our young people together and talking with each other,” Dr. Kingston says, adding that Mass General’s goal is to raise enough philanthropic support to name ten new research scholars annually.
Researchers frequently rely on funding from a variety of sources to operate their laboratories. For participants, the MGH Research Scholar Awards Program can help overcome the anxiety caused by federal funding cuts and potential uncertainty involving other sources of support.
For a good researcher, worrying about whether you are pursuing important scientific goals with the best experiments possible can be productive, Dr. Kingston says.
“But some of our investigators are worried that they are going to have a paycheck to bring home and support their families,” he adds. “It does not help research get done when your great scientists are worried about that type of thing. The MGH Research Scholars Awards Program helps that.”
To learn more about how you can support the MGH Research Scholars Awards Program, contact us.