The biomedical research community is grateful that Congress has increased the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget by 15 percent, or about $2 billion. This unprecedented increase in funding for biomedical research greatly benefits the entire nation.
In previous columns, I have argued that the savings in dollars we achieve each year from two simple medical procedures more than pay for our entire nation's biomedical research budget each year: polio vaccination and Rh immunization. But legislatures (and the public) clearly see that the promise for more exciting developments is near.
Gary S. Becker, the 1992 Nobel laureate in economics (and a fellow of the Hoover Institution), has said that "even a 1 percent drop in death rates from cancer or heart disease would be worth almost half a trillion dollars to Americans." In the April 19 issue of Business Week, two economists at the University of Chicago, Kevin M. Murphy and Robert H. Topel, were quoted as well on this issue, estimating the value to people in the United States of the steep fall in death rates from heart disease and other ailments that have occurred from 1970-90. Their calculations show that the reduction in the chances of dying from heart disease alone produced benefits many times larger than the total spending on medical research over the entire period. When I was an intern in medicine in 1963, more than 40 percent of my patients died during their first heart attack despite the best care we could provide at a major New York teaching hospital. Today, in a rural hospital in Oklahoma, the death rate from an initial myocardial infarction (medical term for a heart attack) is close to 4 percent. Each life saved and each hospitalization avoided adds money to the economy, quite apart from the all-important alleviation of the pain and suffering of the patient and his or her family. …