US Biomedical Funding Slows, Asia's Explodes

Jeffrey A. Lieberman. MD


February 05, 2014

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Sobering News for the New Year

Hello. This is Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman of Columbia University, speaking to you today for Medscape. I want to wish everybody a happy New Year. However, I have to say that my comments today will be starting us off on a down note. Also, my comments may be a bit longer than usual because of the complexity of this topic, so I hope you will bear with me.

The impetus for my comments today began at a New Year's Eve party, when I was with a group of people (including a high-ranking government official) who were talking about the current economic situation, in particular federal funding for healthcare and biomedical research. I was lamenting the fact that while we were struggling to determine how we were going to finance healthcare, we were also underfunding biomedical research, as a result of declining funding of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since the first 5 years of the 21st century -- when the NIH budget had been doubled, led by such champions as the late Senator Arlen Specter. Since then, as Director Francis Collins of the NIH ruefully told us, the budget has been effectively halved as a result of the recession, and reductions in NIH funding have occurred despite the stimulus plan funds that were infused in the economy during the initial years, and then most recently as a result of sequestration.

The government official listened to me, and then said that although that may be the case, we are maintaining our preeminence because I wasn't taking into account all of the private sector investment that we enjoy in the United States and that we, as researchers, benefit from. I told him I couldn't say, because I wasn't familiar with these figures, but that I would have to check into that.

I didn't have to go very far to find out -- not even to PubMed or any of the online journals -- because the first issues of the New England Journal of Medicine[1] and JAMA[2] in the new year carried articles that were directly on point to this topic and had a scary and sobering message.


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