Research funding flows into Triangle as pandemic drags on

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The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted most industries across the world and led to unprecedented economic fallout threatening many revenue streams. But it has also led to an emphasis on funding research to find answers to the crisis.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the federal government has been rolling out relief packages and other financial support to help soften the pandemic’s blow, and that includes agencies funding health researchers. Among them is the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which so far this year has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the Triangle to fund research.

“In a crisis that’s health-related, NIH funding will go up, because they’re responsive to what’s going on in the world,” says Judith Cone, vice-chancellor of innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development at UNC. “Because we’re heavily life science, NIH is really being aggressive and trying to invest in things that are pertinent to Covid-19, so right now our numbers are going up.”

According to NIH’s public database, the region has so far received 845 awards in 2020. In total, those awards have brought $495.4 million to Triangle universities and institutions.

Duke University has received the most funding in 2020, receiving a total of $185.3 million from 353 awards. Just behind, UNC-Chapel Hill has received $182.9 million from 375 awards.

Coming in third in the database is Durham-based Rho, a contract research organization, with $32.8 million.

Other top awardees so far in 2020 include:

  • Family Health International (FHI) – $24.4 million.
  • Research Triangle Institute (RTI) – $21.6 million.
  • N.C. State University – $13.7 million.

According to NIH data, the Triangle region received a total of 2,213 awards in 2019, totaling more than $1.39 billion dollars. Through July 31, 2019, the region had reported a total of 1,550 grants worth $850 million.

But the recent spike in funding is not just good news in the short run for the Triangle. In recent years, the Trump administration has proposed cuts to NIH funding in several budget proposals – none of which have ever made it past Congress but represented the most serious threat to funding the agency has seen in years.

With the public health emergency pushing more funding toward the agency, administrators like Cone say they believe that public sentiment toward the importance of NIH funded research will improve.

“Definitely, the federal government can see whatever dollars they can put into prevention, cure, and answers saves the economy overall from being in a deficit position,” she says. “So they’re very motivated to get this under control, because of its health effects, but also its economic effects.”

Cone also notes that while she was initially concerned that the pandemic would cause a slowdown in business start-up activity, those fears have not come to fruition thus far.

“What we have seen on a limited basis is not seeing a drop-off,” she says. “We are seeing a pretty dramatic uptick … which was a surprise to us and we’re very happy about it.”

Original Article Source: Triangle Business Journal