Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Identifying Biomedical Research Trends

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Identifying Biomedical Research Trends

Article excerpt

From the time the federal government began investing in biomedical research until 1997, the annual growth in the National Institutes of Health budget was about 5 percent. Corrected for inflation, the growth has been about 2 percent per year.

Beginning in 1997 and continuing through this year (pending approval of the current budget, which seems very likely), we have seen a five-year doubling of the NIH budget from $15 million per year to $30 million per year. This occurred during both the Clinton and the Bush presidencies, and during times when both the Republicans and the Democrats controlled at least one house of Congress. Currently, biomedical scientists and leaders in the academic communities, such as Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and independent institutes, such as Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, are preparing for the post-doubling scenario.

No one expects 15 percent increases in the budget to continue, but what is the increase likely to be: 4, 6, 8, 10 percent? Each scenario has significant implications for how we plan, recruit and build our organizations.

Many of our scientific societies and organizations, which advocate for research support, are hoping that our elected officials will support about an 8 to 9 percent increase. Such an increase would sustain the gains we have made over the past four to five years. Less, and we will lose the ground we have gained. The Office of Management and Budget has been talking about 2.2 percent, which most of us see as unlikely and near disastrous.

The public may not fully appreciate that few arms of the federal government are scrutinized as closely as biomedical support. Grants are awarded on a vigorous (some would say brutal) peer reviewed (competition) process. While support is for three to five years, those scientists who do not "get results" are typically "unfunded" and have to seek support elsewhere. Few federal programs are subject to this kind of competition. Indeed, few lay people understand that in general less than 25 percent of all grant applications are funded.

In my view, biomedical research will find favor with our elected officials -- more than before the doubling, but clearly less than the doubling amount (15 percent). My own prediction is that we will settle in for a 7 to 8 percent increase over the next decade. That is the number we are using in our planning. If I were convinced it would return to 5 percent (2 percent considering inflation), I am not sure OMRF would be studying a further expansion beyond our current strategic plan goal of 54 member scientists.

Here are a few of the reasons I believe National Institutes of Health will continue to receive a larger portion of the federal budget than previously:

* Thanks to advocacy groups for issues such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes, our elected officials at all levels are more and more aware of the benefits of biomedical research. The National Institutes of Health itself has been more responsive to the Congress and the public in pointing out the tremendous payoffs we have enjoyed as a society, and how these advances have increased life expectancy, and overall resulted in more people living longer, healthier lives.

A few specific examples of the role of biomedical research in people's lives include:

Tuberculosis: Before antibiotics, patients with TB spent years in sanatoriums and had a high chance of dying of their disease. …

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