AGA advocates for increased NIH funding

AGA position: Congress should increase NIH funding to $41.6 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2020.

Each year, more than 62 million Americans are diagnosed with digestive disorders, including foodborne illness, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), obesity, gastrointestinal cancers and motility disorders. In some of these areas, medical research has brought us closer to developing lifesaving treatments and cures. Yet, in others, we still lack even the basic understanding of the cause and transmission of the diseases. 


According to surveys conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics in 2013, 40.4 million ambulatory care visits occur annually with a first-listed diagnosis of digestive disease.1 Many of these diseases are potentially deadly or debilitating, and include colon, liver and pancreatic cancers, IBD, foodborne illness, and gastroesophageal reflux disease. The costs for treating these diseases exceed $141 billion annually.1,2

Recently updated burden statistics indicate that the five year survival rate for individuals diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is 9 percent; for liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer, it is 18 percent; and for esophageal cancer, the survival rate is 21 percent.3 Funding research to identify effective treatments and cures for these digestive diseases can save the health care system in the U.S. billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives.


Research funding has proven to be a wise investment given that life expectancy has increased; death from heart disease, cancer and stroke is declining; and new technologies are able to detect and treat disease more quickly. A recent study by United for Medical Research4 found that every NIH dollar generates more than twice as much in state economic output. NIH grants and contracts created and supported more than 379,000 jobs that generated over $64 billion in economic activity across all 50 states in 2016 alone.

Search NIH funding awards by state and the number of jobs supported by this funding.


In 2016, NIH awarded AGA a five-year grant to establish a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) National Registry, a centralized database for physicians and their patients to report data on safety, effectiveness and utilization of FMT. In partnership with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation; Infectious Diseases Society of America; and North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, AGA will lead an effort to collect short- and long-term outcomes of FMT and promote greater scientific investigation into this promising new therapy for patients with Clostridium difficile infection, a prevalent and costly health care-associated infection, as well as other disorders with implications for the gut microbiome. NIH funding for this project is critical for the future of this potential treatment for millions of patients.


It is essential that the momentum in research progress that NIH funding has generated be sustained by taking the next step to invest in predictable and sustained, long-term growth in NIH funding. This research enables our nation’s scientists to continue to make progress that will help improve the quality of care that Americans receive and ultimately find cures for so many diseases. Across the board budget cuts, known as “sequestration,” have had a devastating impact on research at NIH. According to data from NIH, these cuts have had the following impact:5

  • From FY 2003 to FY 2015, NIH lost 22 percent of its capacity to fund research due to budget cuts, sequestration and inflationary losses.
  • Awards for R01-equivalent grants, the primary mechanism for supporting investigator-initiated research, also suffered substantial losses. The number of grants awarded fell by 1,420 (19 percent) between 2003 and 2016.


A reduction in funding for researchers, especially young investigators, threatens the ability to attract the best minds who are committed to finding cures and better treatment options, which, ultimately, saves lives.

In FY 2019, Congress appropriated a $2 billion increase for NIH in an effort to restore funding to presequestration levels. Together with increases in FY 2018 and from the Innovation Accounts provided as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, NIH has seen the largest increases since the doubling period in the last decade. The recent increases in funding have led to 1,149 additional research grants being awarded.


Investing in biomedical research must be continuous and funding NIH at $41.6 billion will enable the institute to build on the momentum of recent increases and expand NIH’s capacity to support promising research in all disciplines. Increasing NIH funding will continue to spur economic growth and development, create jobs and maintain our country’s global competitiveness in the life sciences industry. Therefore, AGA calls on Congress to support the research community’s recommendation to increase the NIH by $2.5 billion in FY 2020.

1. NCHS, National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 2013.
2. NCHS, National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 2013.
3. Everhart JE, editor. The Burden of Digestive Diseases in the United States. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 2008; NIH Publication No. 09-6443.
4. American Cancer Society. (2017). Cancer facts & figures 2017. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society.
5. Ehrlich E. NIH’S Role in Sustaining the U.S. Economy. United for Medical Research. 2016. Accessed at Economy-FY15-FINAL-5.23.16.pdf.
6. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. NIH Research Funding Trends. 2017. Accessed at Funding.pdf.
7. Office of Management and Budget. (2017). Major savings and reforms: Budget of the U.S. government, Fiscal year 2018. fy2018/msar.pdf.