How federal funding cuts hurt medical research

"We cannot underestimate the need for a vibrant research community to add to our scientific knowledge and bring innovation to clinical medicine," says Arthur S. Levine. "It is imperative to have a renewed commitment to provide the financial stability to achieve these goals." (Credit: "lab glass" via Shutterstock)

Cuts in federal support and unreliable funding streams are creating a hostile work environment for scientists. This situation is jeopardizing the future of research efforts and ultimately clinical medicine, according to leaders of the nation’s top academic medical centers.

Medical school deans from 18 institutions reviewed the financial challenges that prevent high-risk, high-reward research, drive established investigators out of the United States, and discourage trainees and early career researchers from pursuing their professional dreams.

“At any amount of public investment, the cost of the biomedical research enterprise is growing inexorably beyond what available resources can reasonably support,” they write in Science Translational Medicine.

“Persistent constraints on federal funding for biomedical research, including that from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), threaten to undermine the biomedical research enterprise, and decreasing clinical revenue compounds this threat.”

53 cents to the dollar

Income from tuition fees, technology transfer, state grants, and philanthropic gifts cannot make up for the loss of federal funds, says Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, who led the coauthors.

Furthermore, caps on federal reimbursement for administrative costs of research—which have risen significantly due to increased federal regulation—exacerbate the challenges.

Academic institutions contribute on average an additional 53 cents for every dollar of sponsored research support received, typically with clinical revenue that is expected to decrease as the Affordable Care Act reduces health care costs.

“There is no question that academic institutions already have skin in the game to support the business of research, but we are doomed to be flayed without concomitant increases in federal funding,” Levine notes.

“One of the critical components of the US economy is a biomedical enterprise that fosters discovery and invention of new therapies and technologies. The federal-academic partnership must be reinvented so that we can continue to lead research initiatives, deliver top-notch health care, and support the next generations of scientists.”

Funding forecast

One approach is a model in which the growth in appropriations to NIH and other research sponsors is predictable, accounts for inflation, and is projected over three to five years, allowing both federal and academic institutions to plan for the future rather than attempt to react to annual funding uncertainty, the writers say.

Biomedical research efforts must equal what is needed to improve health care in accordance with the public’s needs and demands; funding reductions, they note, will lead to a smaller biomedical enterprise and slow clinical advances.

“We cannot underestimate the need for a vibrant research community to add to our scientific knowledge and bring innovation to clinical medicine,” Levine says. “It is imperative to have a renewed commitment to provide the financial stability to achieve these goals.”

Medical school deans from Boston University, Columbia University, Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, University of Chicago, University of Iowa, University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, Washington University, and Yale University are among the writers.

Source: University of Pittsburgh