For Oklahoma's Future: $100 Million for Biomedical Research

By J. Donald Capra | THE JOURNAL RECORD, October 29, 1998 | Go to article overview

For Oklahoma's Future: $100 Million for Biomedical Research


J. Donald Capra, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Each year the federal government, through the National Institutes of Health, awards about $10 billion in research grants to the biomedical research efforts in colleges, universities and not-for- profit research foundations.

Based on Oklahoma's population, we should be receiving about $100 million in NIH grants each year. Currently, we receive only $31 million, the bulk of which goes to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. This represents only about 24 percent of our "fair share."

Our neighboring states, for example, Texas (67 percent) and Colorado (120 percent) do substantially better. Unfortunately, Oklahoma is not experiencing any growth in this area; in fact, we are going in the wrong direction. In 1993, we ranked 40th in the nation in NIH per capita funding. In 1997, we dropped a notch to 41. Growth occurred in other neighboring states -- Missouri from 14th to 12th; New Mexico from 27th to 26th -- while others stayed at the same ranking (except Texas, which dropped from 24th to 25th). Other states with less per capita funding than Oklahoma have substantially lower populations (Alaska, Arkansas, Mississippi, Nevada, South and North Dakota, Wyoming). But population in itself is not really a factor. For example, my home state of Vermont, with only 588,000 people, ranks 13th in per capita funding, at $44.64 per person, or nearly five times as much as Oklahoma, with a population of three million! Biomedical research -- of which the intellectual property (discoveries) of scientists is translated into biotechnology -- is spawning the greatest industry growth in the nation. In 1995, the net value of the biotechnology industry was $52 billion; in 1996, it had more than doubled, to $103 billion. It is predicted that by 2015, U.S. biotechnology will be a $600 billion industry. An incredible 70 percent of industrial research and development funding in this industry goes toward health. Biomedical research is one area in which Oklahoma has a chance to achieve national and international prominence -- but only if we can sustain the momentum generated over the past decade. While I have been in Oklahoma a little more than a year, I believe it is appropriate to state clearly and unequivocally that Oklahoma should set the goal of achieving $100 million in NIH grants within five years (our "fair share"). Why are these research dollars so important to our state? First and foremost, the public is interested in medical research. In fact, according to a recent opinion poll taken by Research!America, they are overwhelmingly in favor of both state and federal funds being used to support biomedical research, and recognize that Oklahoma needs to be a leader in this area. Next, biomedical research is an enormous engine that can fuel Oklahoma's economy, which relied for most of its history on the oil business. Research dollars that come into Oklahoma provide high- quality, better-than-average pay for our citizens, and will lay the foundation for jobs in the future for our sons and daughters. Of course, research dollars boost the economy in other ways as well. People with jobs buy houses, furniture, clothing, groceries and services. They go to the movies, ballgames and museums. The taxes they pay provide for better schools and more highly trained teachers, roads, libraries, and cultural opportunities. It would clearly be a boon to business -- all Oklahoma business. But equally as important, Oklahoma -- with a vigorous economy, a highly educated and/or skilled population, and a more prominent national profile, will be a place in which Oklahomans can take particular pride, because we have accomplished it ourselves -- we are the masters of our future. We will need to put in place all the efforts necessary to bring Okahoma its fair share of research dollars. …

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