NIH: without budget cuts, we’d have Ebola vaccine

By Fiona Barry

- Last updated on GMT

Francis Collins' comments provoked a backlash
Francis Collins' comments provoked a backlash

Related tags Immune system Nih

The head of the US National Institutes of Health has said the organisation would have developed a finished Ebola vaccine by now if its funding had not been slashed over the last decade.

NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It's not like we suddenly woke up and thought, 'Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,’​” said Francis Collins.

Frankly, if we had not gone through our ten-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would've gone through clinical trials and would have been ready,​” he told The Huffington Post.

Collins said NIH research spending has “slowed down​” in the last ten years, meaning vaccine development is “on a slower track than would've been ideal, or that would have happened if we had been on a stable research support trajectory.​”

We would have been a year or two ahead of where we are, which would have made all the difference.​”

Redirecting funds

The NIH’s total budget dropped to $29.3bn in 2013, from a height of $31.2bn in 2010, not accounting for inflation.

rose by several billion dollars each year at the start of the 2000s but this growth dropped to 29.3bn in 2013 – lower than its mid-decade budget and not accounting for inflation.Within NIH, funding forthe National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), whichdevelops vaccines, followed a similar pattern. Budgets decreasedyear-on-year from 2010 toa current $4.3bn allocation, almost $50m dollars lower thanin the mid-2000s.


Within NIH,the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)sawdecreased funding year-on-year from 2010 to its current $4.3bn allocation, almost $50m dollars lower than its 2004 figure.

The urgent need to develop an Ebola vaccine, coupled with the budget cutshad forced Collins to “redirect​” funds that should have gone elsewhere to other diseases, he said, adding that “nobody seems enthusiastic​” in Congress to raise emergency cash.

‘Vaccines can make things worse’

Several pharma companies are rushing Ebola vaccine candidates through development. Canadian company Tekmira announced yesterday it had begun limited manufacturing of a therapeutic, but did not say if it was a drug or vaccine.

GSK,​ Johnson& Johnson, and Mapp Therapeutics​ are also working on vaccines.

But Collins counselled that the jabs might not be a panacea:

Sometimes vaccines not only don't work, they make things worse. Look at the HIV step trial, where that vaccine not only did not protect [against] HIV, it increased susceptibility because it did something to the immune system that made it more vulnerable. That could happen here too.​”

Collins’ remarks caused a backlash in US conservative press,​ but he told the Washington Post that his comments had provoked a “really nasty political outcome that has resulted in attacks on NIH. People are saying I’m overstating the circumstances, which I don’t think I am.​”

NIAID’s director Anthony Fauci was more guarded, telling the media he disagreed with the severity of Collins’ statements, while acknowledging budgets were cut: “I think you can’t say we would or would not have this or that. Everything has slowed down, but I would not make that statement.​”

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