A paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) engaged in some timely agenda-setting recently when it presented a study quantifying the number of FDA-approved drugs discovered through research at federally funded organizations. It stated that federally backed research resulted in the sanction of 153 drugs, vaccines, and new indications for existing therapies in the U.S. between 1970 and 2009.
Authors of “The Role of Public-Sector Research in the Discovery of Drugs and Vaccines” left no doubt they wanted to weigh in on the ongoing debate over federal funding of basic research, declaring among their conclusions: “Public-sector research has had a more immediate effect on improving public health than was previously realized.”
The paper’s lead author, Ashley J. Stevens, D.Phil., told GEN, “The message that I wanted people to take away from this was that the government puts a lot of funding into research at these various places, and it is primarily to advance the nation’s knowledge base, not to create commercial spinoffs.
“I wanted people to realize that in the course of doing this, you did get these important health benefits to the public and economic development benefits to the companies that take these inventions and develop them,” added Dr. Stevens, special assistant to the vp for research technology development and senior research associate at Boston University’s Institute of Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization and a lecturer at the BU School of Medicine.
That message, fair to say, has found a friend at the NIH. Its director, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., cited the NEJM study on February 14 from the podium of the press briefing on the budget for his agency and the other agencies that comprise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Collins defended President Obama’s plan to increase NIH’s budget about 2.4%, or $745 million, for the fiscal year starting October 1. This would take the money available to the institute from $31.24 billion, which was the last-approved budget in 2010, to almost $31.98 billion. Congress has yet to approve a budget for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year; a continuing resolution ends March 4.
Newly empowered House Republicans acted quickly earlier this month to propose a leaner NIH, with the House Appropriations Committee introducing a bill cutting the agency’s budget by 5%, or $1.63 billion. The bill went beyond the billion-dollar reduction proposed by committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) let alone the no-cut, no-growth NIH budget initially offered by the committee until House GOP backbenchers pressed for further reduction. After all, Republicans won control of the chamber based on promises to rein in spending.