Obama Stimulus Plan May Generate $300M Research Windfall, UW Says

3/23/09Follow @xconomy

The Northwest’s biggest research center is going to get a lot bigger in a hurry. The University of Washington expects it will rake in a $300 million windfall of research money in the next six months as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, according to Linden Rhoads, the UW’s vice provost of technology transfer.

This cash infusion would represent about a 30 percent boost in support for research at the UW, which is already the largest public research university in the country, with about a $1 billion budget for sponsored research. The new money is already putting the heat on scientists, Rhoads said during comments last week at Invest Northwest, the life sciences investment conference in Seattle. Instead of the usual five-year grant cycle, biomedical researchers receiving stimulus money will have to show results from their work in two years, she said. This is going to create a new kind of urgency around the lab, she said.

“There is going to be competition for any loose postdocs and scientists out there,” Rhoads said.

Rhoads made these comments during a panel discussion with her fellow Northwest technology transfer leaders at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University, Washington State University, and the University of British Columbia. All of those institutions are working on getting their applications turned in fast to Uncle Sam too, although the other centers were a little more circumspect about making predictions of how much stimulus money they will actually get.

This is all welcome news for the biomedical research world, which relished the boom years from 1998 to 2003, when federal policymakers doubled the budget for the National Institutes of Health to about $27 billion a year. Congress essentially froze the NIH budget for the past five years, and that put a squeeze on many labs that had grown large, because suddenly there was greater competition for a fixed amount of resources.

Back in 1999, when the NIH budget was smaller, about 29 percent of initial grant applications through the standard R01 process were winners. The success rate for first-time applications now has dipped to just 12 percent, according to Harvard University President Drew Faust, in testimony before the Senate Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions committee on March 11. That situation has created a lot of frustrated biomedical researchers, who are eager to scoop up some of the new NIH budget, which will total about $40 billion with the added stimulus.

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  • Golden

    While the UW is a research powerhouse, according to the National Science Foundation it is actually the 6th ranked public research university following UCSF, Wisconsin-Madison, UCLA, Michigan and UCSD.

  • Clydia Cuykendall

    I would be careful about calling any part of the Obama Stimulus Plan a “windfall”, given the number of new homeless, hungry, or jobless people suffering as a result this recession. Maybe I’ll give my annual UofW donation to a Foodd Bank instead.