COMMENTARY

US Biomedical Funding Slows, Asia's Explodes

Jeffrey A. Lieberman. MD

Disclosures

February 05, 2014

In This Article

Academic Grants Drying Up

This is a very worrisome situation, the extent of which is brought home to academic psychiatrists such as myself, who do research, by the article the January 1 issue of JAMA[2] by Bridget Kuehn: "Budget Woes, Sequester Place Researchers in a Bind: Young Researchers Hit Hard." This article basically says that although NIH funding had been doubled the first 5 years of the 21st century, and now it has been undoubled, it was incurring a reduction in funds or no increases in loss inflation-adjusted terms with the onset of the great recession. What has added insult to injury was the sequestration of 2013 -- whether it was a 5% across-the-board cut of $1.55 billion to the $31 million budget of the NIH.

Biomedical research at the NIH itself, and then in the academic community across the country, depends on the 300,000 researchers at 2500 universities in the United States receiving funding from the NIH -- and to have a 5% across-the-board cut meant that damaging cuts to grants had to be incurred, plus new grants couldn't be funded. The effect of this is to make young researchers who are just starting out struggle even more to try and get funded, begin their careers, and build laboratories. As a result, the average age of an NIH grantee has increased to the low to mid-40s. Individuals who are established investigators with ongoing labs, when they have a lapse in funding or a cut in funding, have to lay off personnel or downsize their labs; if or when they get refunded, they have to retrain and rehire, and it takes months if not years to regain their momentum and their research capability.

Another factor is all of the people who might be interested in going into scientific careers and pursuing research who are being discouraged because they see the difficulty in getting funded and the challenges that established people in the field are currently facing. The situation where we are burning our seed corn, eroding our biomedical research infrastructure, and jeopardizing our global leadership has been described by Jennifer Zeitzer, Director of Legislative Affairs at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, as "budgetary insanity." How could you think of it otherwise?

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