Another UCSF Voice Added to Funding Protest

Another UCSF scientist has added his voice to the protest over NIH funding priorities. David Toczyszki of UCSF's Cancer Research Institute acknowledges that there is a need to have significant funding in areas germane to bioterrorism. "However, I personally feel that there is a strong political component to this trend as well. Any redirection of funds that is politically based is not serving the mission of the NIH. NIH-funded research is the cornerstone of medicine and biotechnology in the US. Therefore, redirection of these funds should be considered very carefully and with the interests of the public at heart." Toczyszki and Carol Gross, vice chair of UCSF's department of microbiology and immunology, and four other UCSF colleagues are among more than 700 signatories of an open letter to NIH director Elias Zerhouni complaining that research into a handful of bioweapons agents is diverting money from projects with a higher public health significance, such as tuberculosis and antibiotic-resistant pneumonia. The letter, published in the March 4 issue of Science, cites data that show a 41 percent decrease in the number of grants awarded to study non biodefense-related model microorganisms since 2001. Over the same period, the authors contend, the number of grants that reference such"favored" agents as anthrax and plague has jumped by 1500 percent. In a response to the BBC World News Service, NIH officials says the figures quoted are misleading. Gross, who studies the regulation of E.coli - a common cause of food poisoning -- believes that NIH investments in microbial physiology, genetics and pathogenesis underlie many of the recent and promised advances in public health. Changing that funding formula has created a powerful, and she argues in the latest issue of Mother Jones, misguided inducement to both established scientists and their younger colleagues, who are either struggling to start their careers or keep their laboratories open. For those left behind in the bioweapons gold rush, the results can be crippling. "I believe that the effect on the whole community is pretty devastating," says Gross. "Even though I have thus far gotten my grants, many excellent scientists have not and it is very, very difficult for young people entering the field." The other UCSF signatories are Henry Chambers, Joanne Engel, Alexander Johnson, Paul Sullam and David Toczyszki. Source: Jeff Miller