Science policy year in review

It has been a busy year in science policy. Congress debated major legislation in 2015 that could improve research funding, the National Institutes of Health unveiled some long-anticipated projects and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology continued to increase its prominence as a leading voice on critical policy issues.

The ASBMB

In July, members of the ASBMB Public Affairs Advisory Committee published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that explored the scientific community’s recommendations for improving the sustainability of the research enterprise. The society now is planning a summit that will bring together experts to develop implementation plans for some of the recommendations.

The ASBMB continued its efforts to provide new ways of understanding research funding and engaging with Congress. The society sponsored a congressional briefing in September that presented the effects of stagnant research budgets on scientists and encouraged a return to a period of budget growth. The society also played a major role in the recent #RaiseTheCaps lobbying push led by the Nondefense Discretionary United coalition. The push resulted in Congress relaxing the spending caps on the federal budget.

Congress

In the spring, the U.S. House of Representatives proposed $1 billion and the U.S. Senate proposed $2 billion in funding increases to the NIH budget for fiscal 2016. Neither of these increases has come to fruition. However, the success of the #RaiseTheCaps campaign means that Congress will have some flexibility to increase the budgets of federal science-funding agencies in the coming year.

In nonappropriations news, after more than a year’s worth of work, debates and committee hearings, the House passed the 21st Century Cures Act in June. The bill would increase funding for the NIH by $8.8 billion over five years. While the increased funding would be welcome, the society still had several concerns about funding restrictions and other policy riders in the bill and ultimately neither endorsed nor opposed 21st Century Cures. As the Senate works on its own version of the bill, the ASBMB has been advocating for the Senate to include increased funding for all NIH institutes and centers and sensible policies that promote research. A draft version of the Senate’s bill is expected in mid to late autumn.

Federal Agencies

In June, the NIH unveiled a set of long-expected rules for grant applications meant to improve rigor and reproducibility in basic research. Some of the new guidelines include requiring grant applications to evaluate sex as a biological variable, authentication of cell lines and identification of antibodies.

The NIH also began work on its next big-science project, the Precision Medicine Initiative. The PMI is meant to sequence the genomes of one million Americans to make personalized medicine more of a reality. However, the federal agency is facing significant competition from Alphabet, the parent company of Google, which has begun working on a similar initiative.

And these were just the highlights! The development of policies around the use of CRISPR/Cas9 and similar technologies, the government avoiding shutdown and default, and the ASBMB’s continuing efforts to engage young scientists in advocacy were all major storylines in 2015. We expect 2016 will be just as busy.

Photo of Chris Pickett Chris Pickett is a policy analyst at the ASBMB.