| March 27
March 27 Top heart doctors and researchers have
a simple reaction to President Donald Trump's proposed 20
percent cut to the budget of the U.S. National Institutes of
Health: fear that research that results in life-saving drugs
will deal a crippling blow.
As drugmakers shift focus to more lucrative areas, such as
oncology and rare diseases, fewer heart drugs in their pipelines
means NIH-funded research may be more important to cardiology
than ever, doctors at the recent American College of Cardiology
Despite major advances that have helped patients live
longer, healthier lives, heart disease remains the world's No. 1
Top heart doctors and researchers at the ACA meeting used
words like "chilling" and "catastrophe" to describe their
reaction to the proposed $5.8 billion cut to the NIH budget.
They noted that the Nobel Prize-winning scientists whose
discovery led to development of the world's most successful,
widely used heart drugs were funded by the NIH, as were
countless studies and research that has changed medical practice
and enhanced the lives of millions.
"There are trials that we have to do that will never be
funded by drug companies. We rely on NIH," said Dr. Leslie Cho,
head of preventive cardiology at Cleveland Clinic.
A prime example: the government-funded landmark Sprint trial
that found more aggressive treatment with generic blood pressure
medicines dramatically cut heart failure and risk of death in
adults aged 50 and older.
Interviews with about a dozen top cardiologists at the ACC
meeting found unanimous condemnation of the proposed cuts amid
fear they will halt important work and disenfranchise a new
generation of researchers.
"I'm a little concerned that there hasn't been a complete
eruption that the NIH is being targeted for such substantial
cuts. This is a landmine waiting to explode," said Dr. Clyde
Yancy, a former American Heart Association president.
"Laboratories will be shut down; personnel would be
released; ideas would be left incomplete; proposals would go
unaddressed. We just can't afford to have the pace of scientific
discovery slowed down like this," said Yancy, from Northwestern
University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Dr. Steven Nissen, chief of cardiology at Cleveland Clinic,
pointed to the work of Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein that
eventually gave the world statins, such as Pfizer's
Lipitor, the cholsterol-lowering drugs which prevent heart
attacks. Early NIH-funded research laid the groundwork for a
wide range of big-selling drugs produced by the pharmaceutical
"How many millions of heart attacks and lives have been
changed by that. If you don't fund the Browns and Goldsteins of
the world, where do the next discoveries come from?" asked
Dr. Andrew Kates runs the cardiology fellowship training
program at Washington University in St. Louis.
"I know the struggles that our fellows face looking for
career development awards and that's all NIH-funded grants. So
the pipeline that we need for future researchers will be at
significant risk," Kates said. "We all need to be concerned."
To be sure, the real budgeting power lies with Congress,
which could reject NIH cuts.
"Aside from defense and vets, NIH is one of the most
universally loved programs on Capitol Hill," said Capital Alpha
Partners analyst Rob Smith.
But Congress is controlled by the president's party and
there is no guarantee Republicans will stand against Trump or to
Dr. Patrick O'Gara, director of clinical cardiology at
Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a former ACC
president, said massive NIH cuts would hurt local economies.
"That will eventually trickle down to the workers who are
able to enjoy access to good jobs that have been driven by this
biotechnology juggernaut, much of which relates to the level of
research that can be accomplished," O'Gara said.
"I'm hopeful that this is just an opening gambit and
Congress ... will look at things differently," he added.
ACC President Dr. Mary Walsh, director of heart failure and
transplantation programs at St. Vincent Heart Center in
Indianapolis, called for fierce opposition to the proposed cuts.
"All of medicine and all of investigation need to make our
voices heard," she said. "This could become a unifying theme.
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Additional reporting by Julie
Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Leslie Adler)