Inside Salk; Salk Insitute

Insider's View

William Brody

As we begin 2012 with exciting discoveries being uncovered almost daily at the Salk, I want to thank our generous donors for their magnificent support.

The Bob Dylan song "The Times They are A-Changin'" couldn't be more apropos of our situation at the Salk Institute. In the United States the federal government has historically committed to fund basic science, and certainly the Salk Institute wouldn't have reached the heights of excellence over the past 50 years without this magnificent support.

Yet it is important to recognize that funding for basic science peaked in the United States in the 1960s, not long after the Salk was founded, at about 1.9 percent of the gross domestic product. In recent years it has declined to approximately 0.7%, less than half that of the peak, and there is no sign of that trend reversing. The decline in funding is a result of pressures on the federal budget from defense spending and entitlements, which winnow down any room left for "discretionary" funding like research and education support.

The success of our nation's biomedical research organizations has, to some extent, been buffered from the overall decline in basic science funding because patient advocacy groups have been effectively lobbying to increase the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget. In addition, philanthropic support has become a growing source of crucial support for basic biomedical research.

The days of increasing NIH budgets are probably behind us—in fact, since 2003, the NIH budget has been declining in constant dollars, with the exception of the two-year American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus bill, which pumped extra money into the NIH along with most other sectors of the federal government.

Just before the December holiday break, we learned that Congress has reduced the amount of salary support that faculty can be provided via NIH grants. While we have yet to understand the full impact of this change, it appears that it adds another $1 million per year to the expense budget of the Salk Institute. And I believe that this is just one of many administrative "adjustments" that will be put in place in the near future.

In these "changing times," the support of our loyal benefactors becomes more and more important to offset the loss of support from the government. NIH support has declined from roughly 75 percent of our research budget to less than 60 percent, with the difference being compensated for by private foundations and donors.

As we begin 2012 with exciting discoveries being uncovered almost daily at the Salk, I want to thank our generous donors for their magnificent support. You have been and will continue to be important partners in discovery.