America’s ability to compete globally in biomedical innovation is being threatened. China, India, Russia, and other competitors have meaningfully increased their government support for biomedical research, which has allowed them to challenge U.S. leadership and lure researchers and life sciences support staff away from the United States for high-paying, reliable jobs in other countries.
How can we ensure that America can compete economically, create jobs here in the United States at all salary levels, and remain a leader in R&D? By funding the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Federal funding for NIH was flat or cut from 2003 to 2016. Despite unprecedented bipartisan support and four years of $2 billion increases, the NIH still remains underfunded by $5 billion as compared to 2003 levels, even though U.S. GDP has grown by more than one-third. Closing this gap and setting NIH on a trajectory for annual inflation-measured funding increases must be a priority for this Congress and legislators for decades to come.
On April 9, 2019, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held a panel discussion in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill to discuss the role that NIH funding plays not just in treating and curing diseases, but also in reducing health care costs and ensuring the United States is able to compete globally in the biomedical research industry.
ITIF President Robert Atkinson opened the event by presenting a new ITIF report that makes the case for increasing federal support for NIH. Despite recent increases and bipartisan support, NIH funding as a share of GDP is still 12 percent below what it was in 2003. Congress will need to allocate an additional $7.4 billion in FY 2020 to raise NIH funding back to the 2003 level. Atkinson emphasized the NIH’s increasing societal and monetary value to American health. He cited one study finding that every dollar spent generates $1.67 in benefits. Further, NIH funding has helped the United States become a world leader in biomedical competitiveness.
Paula Cohen, Professor of Genetics and Associate Vice Provost for Life Sciences at Cornell University, then discussed the importance of long-term investing in the NIH. She shared that it has become more difficult for investigators to acquire their first round of NIH funding, which increases the age they can get involved in long-term research. This challenge results in the loss of generations of young scientists. She also emphasized the importance of considering lesser-funded areas of research to remain competitive.
Lili Portilla, Director of Strategic Alliances at NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, then broadly discussed the continued need for bio-tech innovation funding. The grants and funds are critical to organizations who rely on this funding to pursue innovative research projects. She stressed that the NIH is not poised to bring a drug to market, but rather encourages collaboration with industry to move ideas.
Senior Vice President & Managing Director of DIA Americas, Sudip Parikh, then discussed how other nations are also making great efforts to fund bio-tech innovation. Many of these nations are copying the United States’ investment and innovation ecosystems. Parikh noted that both the life sciences and information technology advancements ultimately help to pave the way for drug development and cures for diseases.
Danielle Friend, Director of Science and Regulatory Affairs of Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), then added that the NIH has a large impact on health outcomes, adding years to lives and value throughout the economy. Drug development poses many challenges and is often very expensive. Collaboration is essential to the basic research process which yields clinical research. Cohen added that lack of funding could also steer away talent, hindering both innovation and economic competitiveness.
Overall, the panelists agreed that NIH funding is essential to the advancement of bio-tech innovation and the United States’ ability to enhancement economic competitiveness. Only with increased funding will the United States maintain its leadership in life-sciences R&D and in the global race for healthcare innovation.