Sunday, December 4, 2011

Follow up #3 to Why we must generously fund NIH: Public health and economic benefits of NIH-funded research

Part 3 of a 3-part follow up.

Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 can be found here.

Since the NIH formally was established in 1930, the average life expectancy of Americans has increased by almost one-third, from 59.7 to more than 78 years.

While many societal changes have contributed to this increase, the contribution made by NIH-funded research in several major disease areas, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes, has been linked to this increase in a 2009 study entitled “NIH funding trajectories and their correlations with US health dynamics from 1950 to 2004”. The study, authored by Ken Manton and collaborators and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, also noted a substantial overall economic benefit of NIH research funding, which increased gross domestic product, increased tax revenues, and reduced Medicare costs (as a consequence of improved public health). The overall economic benefit of NIH-funded research was projected to be $885 billion over a 10-year period and in 2006 was estimated at $36 billion. By contrast, the entire fiscal year 2006 NIH budget was $28.7 billion. This means that American taxpayers were getting a 25% rebate for every dollar appropriated to NIH that year. NIH budgets have been close to $30 billion per year for several years, so, if the Manton report projection is accurate, then the rebate to Americans over the 10-year projection period is on average substantially more than 25% per year. Thus, NIH research has and is projected to continue to more than pay for itself, and it is a great value for American taxpayers.

Other studies also have shown that NIH is an economic engine. Take for example the human genome project.  This multi-year program was designed to map human genetics and advance research into the genetic underpinnings of human diseases, to improve treatments for the many disorders linked to genes. The cumulative financial contribution provided by NIH to the program (approximately $8 billion, amounting to more than 75% of the total federal funding of over $10 billion), led to an economic impact between 1988 and 2010 of $796 billion, according to a Batelle report entitled “Economic Impact of the Human Genome Project” published in May 2011. Another study entitled “An Economic Engine”, authored by economist Everett Ehrlich and sponsored by United for Medical Research reported that in 2008, NIH activities resulted in over $84 billion of wages in the medical innovation sector. The report also noted that in 2010, NIH investment resulted in over $68 billion of new economic activity.

So, over many years, NIH, by funding a broad range of research across many disease areas, including projects that initially were of interest primarily from a basic science perspective, or were considered risky, or even some projects that seemed only remotely related to overall public health when first reviewed, has been a leader in and catalyst of scientific discovery. NIH-supported research has stimulated innovation, has been very successful at reducing disease burdens and increasing quality and length of life, and has stimulated our economy.

One could conceptualize NIH as a large index mutual fund designed to capture many winners by investing broadly, since when it comes to science, just like when it comes to investing, it is very hard if not impossible to predict winners at the outset.

By encouraging risk in research but investing broadly, risk is mitigated and the American public wins time and time again with their investment in NIH. Billionaire conservative businessman Mr. David Koch has been quoted in the New York Times (Cancer Research Before Activism, March 4, 2011) as using this type of investment strategy. Mr. Koch, a prostate cancer survivor, explained his reasons for distributing $200 million worth of contributions to multiple cancer research centers, including a $100 million donation to fund the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He noted that he had been supporting cancer research widely because a broad investment strategy enabled him to pick a winner in the Kentucky Derby: “I bought a ticket on every horse in the race”. Americans must generously invest in NIH to place our bets widely and ensure that we will discover many winners.

There are many programs American taxpayers support today and many programs are struggling in these lean economic times. Nonetheless, I urge Congress to support NIH and to consider increasing NIH funding, which virtually is certain to provide a handsome return both in terms of public health improvements and economic stimulus to American taxpayers over time.

A summary of this article series can be found at:

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