Gillenwater: Federal science funding vital to global competitiveness
Federal science funding vital to global competitiveness
By Todd E. Gillenwater, op-ed exclusive to the U-T San Diego.
Sept. 26, 2014
The United States is home to the most innovative medical research environment in the world, leading the way in tremendous breakthroughs in new and advanced lifesaving treatments that improve the health of millions of Americans.
National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research serves as the foundation for these scientific advancements that offer hope to millions.
While countries like China are doubling down on research spending, chronic underfunding of the NIH — in addition to the foolishness of sequestration, which reduced the agency’s budget by about $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2013 alone — has put America at risk of ceding our global leadership in biomedical innovation. It’s essential that Congress makes a commitment to increasing investment in the NIH to improve health, spur more progress, inspire more hope and save more lives.
Scientific breakthroughs that have led to the development of treatments and technologies to address diseases and illnesses like cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and chronic pain could not have been accomplished by any single entity alone. Together, the NIH, industry, venture capital and academic and private research communities have comprised one of the most successful and vital examples of public-private partnerships in our country.
As an example of the power of federal research funding and public-private collaboration, consider this: in the 1970s, few could have predicted the far-reaching impact recombinant DNA (rDNA). Yet this science, developed by researchers at California universities and funded by the NIH, has improved agriculture, vaccines, drug development, genetic screening and much more. Today, California’s more than 2,300 biomedical companies and institutions, lead the world in life sciences research and development. This leadership has led to the discovery of groundbreaking therapies and technologies to diagnose, treat and prevent some of the most debilitating chronic and fatal conditions.
Funding basic science at the NIH also has a direct correlation to economic growth, job creation and American global competitiveness. According to the National Science Foundation, 85 percent of the NIH budget is reinvested in universities, medical research centers, hospitals and independent research institutes in every state. A recent United for Medical Research report noted that in 2011, NIH grants and contracts created more than 430,000 jobs, producing more than $62 billion in new economic activity across the nation. California’s biomedical innovation sector is a vital component of our state’s economic engine, employing nearly 270,000, paying $15.5 billion in wages and accounting for $20 billion in exports.
In the San Diego area alone, the NIH granted more than a thousand separate awards worth over $440 million for fiscal year 2014. This funding is supporting over 60 different organizations in San Diego, including several local universities, research institutions and industry partners that are working on breakthrough treatments in medical research. The investment of these funds also supports the greater San Diego community through a thriving biotech industry that is a significant job creator in the area.
One of the most groundbreaking contributions to science and medicine in recent history, the Human Genome Project, was fueled by NIH funding and could not have been completed without the instrumental building blocks supplied by academic science. Both the discovery of and ultimate mapping of the human genome were significant events for medical research and innovation, illustrating the incredible outcomes that can be realized with strong public-private collaboration.
Without increased and sustained federal investment in medical research, it is unlikely that the next revolutionary advancement in science will be achieved in the U.S. Continued cuts to federal science agency budgets will result in fewer teams working on the cures and treatments of tomorrow. Collaboration is at the core of any scientific discovery. Without federal investment in these projects, breakthroughs like the mapping of the human genome may remain untapped.
It is essential that Congress fund the research required today to ensure the needed medicines and technologies of tomorrow. Let’s safeguard and sustain this essential public-private partnership and make NIH funding a national priority.
Gillenwater is president and CEO of the California Healthcare Institute, a La Jolla-based nonprofit which helps advance public policies that foster and promote medical innovation.
Read more at the U-T San Diego.