Gary Gilliland, MD, PhD, Testifies Before Congress on NIH Funding System


Gary Gilliland, MD, PhD, President and Director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, recently delivered the following testimony and answered questions from members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. His remarks (below) came at a hearing about the vital need for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund the facilities and administrative costs, also known as “indirect costs,” of biomedical research.

Dr. Gilliland's Remarks

“At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, our mission is to eliminate cancer and related diseases as causes of human suffering and death. Founded in 1975, today we have more than 3,000 employees, occupy 1.3 million square feet, and run over 400 clinical trials each year.

“Fred Hutch’s breakthrough discoveries began with Dr. E. Donnall Thomas’ pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation, which has boosted survival rates for certain blood cancers from nearly 0[%] to 90%. Dr. Thomas’ work earned a Nobel Prize in 1990 and led to a potentially lifesaving option used to treat more than 1 million people worldwide. Though originally developed for leukemia patients, the procedure is now used to treat more than 50 diseases, including autoimmune disorders, sickle cell anemia, myelodysplastic syndromes, and inherited immune-system and metabolic disorders.

“The development of bone marrow transplantation also provided the first definitive and reproducible proof of the human immune system’s ability to cure cancer, laying the groundwork for the now-burgeoning field of immunotherapy. Today, our researchers continue to refine these approaches, which harness the power of immune cells and molecules to eliminate cancer, through a world-leading immunotherapy program. And this is just one of our areas of focus.

“NIH funding drives scientific innovation at research organizations across the country, including at Fred Hutch, and I am proud that the results of our exceptional science also demonstrate our excellent stewardship of NIH funding; Our research has led to dramatic returns on the federal taxpayers’ investment, both in dollars and in lives saved.

“For example, one study of the Fred Hutch-based Women’s Health Initiative led to discoveries that have helped prevent up to 20,000 cases of breast cancer a year and yielded a net economic return of $37.1 billion over 10 years, a return of approximately $140 on every dollar invested in the trial.

“And just this year, Fred Hutch research found that for the $418 million in NCI-funded SWOG clinical trials, cancer patients in the U.S. have gained 3.34 million years of life.

“As the Committee knows, NIH grants include both direct costs and indirect costs. By federal law and regulation, direct costs are those costs that can be identified specifically with a particular sponsored project … relatively easily with a high degree of accuracy’ and can include supplies, certain equipment, and researcher salary support.

“In contrast, indirect costs are those that benefit multiple research projects, so are not easily tied to just one project. They include sophisticated environmental controls, compliance with federal, state, and local regulations, and even equipment and space-rental costs. They efficiently enable us to protect research-participant safety and privacy, report the results of publicly funded research, safely use and dispose of potentially hazardous research chemicals and biomaterials, and store, process, and analyze complex data.

“Together, direct and indirect costs represent the true total cost of research. Indirect funds are NOT, as some have said, ‘money that goes for something other than research.’ And an institution’s indirect cost rate is completely unrelated to its administrative efficiency. It is one method of accounting, with formulas created by the Office of Management of Budget and set by each research center’s cognizant agency. At Fred Hutch, following Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles for nonprofit organizations results in a general and administrative cost rate of approximately 12% of our total costs.

“At Fred Hutch, our sole focus is research that saves lives. So every dollar, ‘direct’ and ‘indirect,’ funds research. Patient outcomes cannot be improved without funding the true total costs of research. This includes shared scientific services and resources that enable us to generate therapeutic T cells for immunotherapy trials; analyze and protect patients’ genomic data; and provide support for exploratory pilot projects conducted by junior investigators. By supporting experts and equipment that no single project or lab could supply on its own, our world-class shared resources, as one example, save money and drive team science that accelerates the translation of bench science into tomorrow’s bedside cures.

“Two years ago I pledged that we could have curative therapies for most if not all cancers by 2025. Advances in bioscience, technology, and data science have brought us to an inflection point. This is not a time to pull back. The choice to invest fully in biomedical research is an investment in a healthy, thriving nation.”

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.