WASHINGTON — A review panel today recommended against farming out research projects of the National Institutes of Health--the government's chief research arm in the fight against AIDS, cancer and other major diseases--to private companies or turning it into an independent agency.
The committee of the National Academy of Sciences also recommended higher salaries and greater independence for top scientists at NIH.
The report said research at NIH makes "invaluable contributions to our knowledge and understanding of basic biological process and their dysfunction in disease," but that this excellence is threatened unless changes are made in management and salary levels.
The report was prompted by a recommendation from the Reagan Administration's Office of Management and Budget that NIH research be taken from the government and turned over to private companies.
The committee of scientists strongly opposed the OMB suggestion, saying "privatization, in the sense of making the intramural (NIH research) program free-standing and self-supporting, is undesirable and impractical."
"None of the common forms of privatization would be as likely to sustain the vitality of the research effort as would a more modest restructuring," the report said. Some changes, it said, "are absolutely necessary if the program is to continue to be an important component of the nation's biomedical research effort."
NIH is a confederation of 12 research institutes, each dedicated to different diseases, types of disorders or speciality areas. The intramural research program combines findings from the various institutes.
An increase in salaries for senior researchers--who are actively recruited by universities, hospitals and biotechnology companies which pay much higher wages--was strongly recommended. The report said 42 senior scientists in the highest NIH salary range of between $77,000 and $99,500 were lured away between 1983 and 1988 by salary increases ranging from 50% to 300%.
It said NIH should be given more authority independent of its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services.
The report said attempts by HHS to "micromanage" NIH "are counterproductive and cause NIH to be inefficient in carrying out its mission."
It also recommended that the NIH director receive a $25-million discretionary fund to be used to respond quickly to research needs.