The rate of increase for funding of biomedical research in the U.S. has slowed since 2005, and the level of funding from the National Institutes of Health and industry appears to have decreased by 2 percent in 2008, after adjustment for inflation, according to an article in the January 13 issue of JAMA.1
“Biomedical research is valued highly by individuals, governments, foundations, and corporations. Research is seen as a source of more effective treatments and preventive measures and as a route to political policy, economic development, and new commercial products,” the authors write. In 2005, the authors reported results of a study that indicated that total public and private financial support of U.S. biomedical research increased substantially during the preceding decade, with a doubling after adjustment for inflation between 1994 and 2003.
However, it appears productivity, as measured by new drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has been stagnant. “While the promise of new drugs for refractory common or devastating diseases continues to capture the public’s imagination and enjoys strong support, policy makers are also aware that new beneficial technology often spawns new cost. Consequently, timely and accurate information about the sources of public and private research funds is important.”
E. Ray Dorsey, M.D., M.B.A., of the University of Rochester Medical Center, New York, and colleagues updated their earlier analysis of funding of biomedical research in the United States from 1994-2003 to 2003-2008. The analysis included publicly available data and quantified funding from government (federal, state, and local), private, and industry sources. Models were used to compare financial trends between 1994-2003 and 2003-2007.
The researchers found that total funding for biomedical research increased from $75.5 billion in 2003 to $101.1 billion in 2007. Adjustment for inflation indicated an increase of 14 percent from 2003 to 2007. “In our previous study, funding increased at a compound annual growth rate of 7.8 percent for 1994-2003 compared with a compound annual rate of 3.4 percent for 2003-2007,” the authors write.
Funding data for 2008 were available only for the NIH and industry, and totaled $88.8 billion. “The corresponding total for 2007 for the NIH and industry was $86.4 billion and when adjusted to 2008 dollars is $90.2 billion, indicating that real (adjusted for inflation) funding for biomedical research from the NIH and industry decreased from $90.2 billion in 2007 to $88.8 billion in 2008.”
The researchers add that, as in the previous study, industry remained the largest contributor to biomedical research, accounting for 58 percent of all expenditures in 2007, and the NIH remained the second-largest contributor, accounting for 27 percent of expenditures. Adjusted for inflation, NIH contributions decreased by 8.6 percent from 2003 to 2007 and total federal funding increased by 0.7 percent, compared to total federal funding increasing by nearly 100 percent from 1994-2003. Support from pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device companies increased by 25 percent from 2003 to 2007 when adjusted for inflation.
In 2007, the United States spent an estimated 4.5 percent of its total health expenditures on biomedical research and 0.1 percent on health services research. From 2003-2008, the number of new and novel drug and device approvals did not increase.
“… research investment appears to have returned to its previous cyclical pattern of increases noted since the 1940s. The rate and cyclic nature of sponsorship affects researchers and institutions, because it influences career choice, selection of projects, building of laboratories, and establishment of new programs. It makes them cautious and may portend a trend to favor incremental research rather than high-risk/high-reward avenues, which have particular value to refractory diseases and those of great clinical or public health impact,” the researchers write.
“Research, and the products and services it leads to, are sources of economic development, which is recognized in the developed and developing world alike. Therefore, in the coming years, debate will likely increase between those who view technology as a source of additional cost and those who view it as a source of value. The research community should be mindful of how others view it and take aggressive steps to enhance its own productivity.”
Thomas F. Boat, M.D., of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, comments in an accompanying editorial regarding the current trend in funding of biomedical research2
1. JAMA. 2010;303:137-143.
2. JAMA. 2010;303:170-171.