Federal Cuts Akin to Amputation: Cancer Researchers

Unless lawmakers in Washington, D.C. can agree on a budget deal by March 1, $85 billion will be cut from the federal budget.

Just as the defense community has warned of the impact of those looming cuts, San Diego's bio-tech industry will also suffer from sweeping budget cuts.

Geoff Wahl, Ph.D., with the Salk Institute fears the across-the-board cuts without regard to program will be detrimental to the region's life sciences industry.

“Call it amputation. You get to choose which of your limbs you want to lose because that’s what it’s going to be,” Wahl said.

Like local military contractors, the bio-tech companies located on what's called "The Mesa" in La Jolla are beholden to federal grants.

In 2012, local companies received more than $130 million from the National Science Foundation and $850 million from the National Institutes of Health U.S. Rep. Scott Peters said Wednesday.

Salk, UCSD, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute among others would all suffer if lawmakers cannot agree on a budget.

"The 9 percent decrease, which is what’s being talked about in the sequester, is going to have a dramatic impact," Wahl said.

“Because it’s the kind of adventuresome research that has the lowest probability of being funded and the sequester will prevent that kind of adventuresome research from being done,” he said.

Peters warned that not only would spending cuts stall research but would result in a “brain drain” of top-tier scientists.

With just 7 percent of all cancer research grants being funded, it poses a dilemma for some of the nation’s brightest students.

“Which brilliant student is going to choose a career in this area when they have a 93 percent chance of failing? None,” said Wahl.

With one in four jobs in the region tied to federal spending, some believe an economic downturn is in the cards for San Diego.

A senior Navy official told NBC 7 San Diego, the Navy plans to cancel ship mid-life maintenance for 10 ships, saving more than $200 million. They also plan to cancel aircraft maintenance at North Island, on the order of more than $80 million.

Hundreds of layoffs at NASSCO already are in the works, in expectation of fewer contracts.


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