Medical research funding is stagnant

A few weeks ago, an article was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association comparing the United States’ medical research funding to that of other countries. Looking across all sources of funding--pharmaceutical/biotech/medical device companies, foundations and charities, all levels of government, NIH grants, and various private funders--the article authors found that there was a significant increase in funding between 1994 and 2004, but that the increase tapered off between 2004 and 2012. This graph shows a large increase in medical research spending 1994-2004 and illustrates virtually level funding in the past decade.

Though it’s always easy to blame the government of all of our problems, and all levels of government increased their research budgets by just a pittance, the overall leveling off isn’t just due to decreased government spending. Biotech and medical device companies have only increased their spending a tiny bit since 2004. Shockingly, the pharmaceutical industry has slightly reduced its investment in research in that time period.

This isn’t great. Considering the United States has some pretty big health issues to address, I would have hoped to see increasing investment rather than the flat levels of the past ten years. Since the cost of research goes up each year as the questions researchers ask and the technology they use becomes more sophisticated, funding should also rise. And since it can take 25 years or longer for new technology to become clinically useful, we will see the effects as many of us age and need advanced medical interventions.

The authors conclude (bold emphasis is mine):

Clearly, the pace of scientific discovery and need for service improvement have outstripped the capacity of current financial and organizational models to support the opportunities afforded. The analysis underscores the need for the United States to find new sources to support medical research, if the clinical value of its past science investment and opportunities to improve care are to be fully realized. Substantial new private resources are feasible, though public funding can play a greater role. Both will require nontraditional approaches if they are to be politically and economically realistic. Given global trends, the United States will relinquish its historical innovation lead in the next decade unless such measures are undertaken.

So successfully increasing medical research spending will all come down to how much the public believes that (1) the research is crucial and (2) if the United States doesn’t invest more money, it will lose its place as the most innovative country. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the new Pew report “Public and Scientists’ Views on Science and Society,” which addresses this very issue.

Source: Moses, H., Matheson, D.H.M., Cairns-Smith, S., George, B.P., Palisch, C., and Dorsey, E.R. The anatomy of medical research: US and international comparisons. JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.15939

Note: My views do not represent the views of any person or any entity associated with the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the United States government, or anything else. These ramblings are mine and mine alone.