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How San Diego Researchers Are Reacting To Trump’s Proposed Cuts

President Donald Trump speaks at the American Center for Mobility, Wednesday,...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: President Donald Trump speaks at the American Center for Mobility, Wednesday, March 15, 2017.

San Diego's biomedical researchers stand to lose big if President Trump's proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health make it through Congress. Some say the cuts could be "cataclysmic."

San Diego's biomedical researchers stand to lose big if President Trump's proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health make it through Congress.

The White House's budget calls for an approximately 20 percent reduction to NIH, which provides the bulk of federal dollars for scientific research at local universities and independent research institutes.

Some in the San Diego research community say the proposed cuts would be "cataclysmic." Others say it's too early in the budgeting process to weigh in on how local scientists could be affected.

Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, said, "I think that a lot of people's jobs would be at risk. And our mission on the [Torrey Pines] Mesa, and the whole of San Diego’s biomedical research enterprise, would be in a desperate situation."

Topol is involved with the federal Precision Medicine Initiative, which is supported by a five-year $120 million NIH grant. The initiative plans to collect health data and genomic information from 1 million Americans to better understand the links between lifestyle, DNA and health.

Photo by toml1959/Flickr

The campus of the Salk Institute is shown in this undated photo.

Topol said it's unclear how the proposed cuts would affect his efforts, but he said a 20 percent cut to NIH would be broadly "devastating" to medical research in San Diego and throughout the U.S.

Joe Panetta, CEO of California life sciences trade group Biocom, agreed, saying such cuts would be felt acutely in the region's biotech industry.

"Basic research fuels the pipeline for the creation of the life-saving technologies that are developed here," said Panetta. "That is just an enormous cut in an area that is so heavily dependent on NIH funding."

More than $850 million in NIH funding flowed into the San Diego region in 2016. An economic impact report from 2015 showed that nearly 95 percent of federal dollars going to independent research institutes in San Diego come from NIH.

The report from the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation states, "A hypothetical drop of $20 million in federal research funding to the region would result in roughly 180 lost jobs and $16 million in lost wages for San Diego's labor force."

The White House's proposed NIH cuts would likely lead to a much larger decline in federal funding for local research.

However, some in the local research community contacted by KPBS — including university research affairs administrators — avoided criticizing Trump's budget. They said it's still unclear whether the proposed cuts will be approved by Congress, and how they could ultimately affect San Diego scientists if passed.

Trump's proposed cuts to biomedical research have been criticized by some Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, who tweeted, "#TrumpCuts $6 billion to NIH, hurting San Diego and the lifesaving medical research done in our region."

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