Big pharma and federal government predicted to play diminishing role in research funding

Published on November 27, 2012 at 9:02 AM · No Comments

In a commentary to be published in the Dec. 12 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, two Johns Hopkins faculty members predict an ever-diminishing role for government and drug company funding of basic biomedical research and suggest scientists look to “innovative” kinds of private investment for future resources. Current negotiations in Washington over sequestration and the so-called “fiscal cliff” provide an opportunity to fundamentally rethink the funding of biomedical research, they say.

Pointing to a decade of flat government funding for biomedical research, higher-than-ever costs of clinical trials, reduced drug industry investment and the threat of deep cuts to the federal research budget without congressional action by January to stop them, the commentators warn that without “creative” new sources of funding, biomedical innovation faces a crisis.

“Regardless of what happens in Congress, biomedical research must look to the private sector and not the federal government as the source of new funds,” write Hamilton Moses III, M.D., an adjunct professor of neurology and onetime chief physician of The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and E. Ray Dorsey, M.D., M.B.A., an associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“The uncertainty of federal support of biomedical research now and in the near-term only makes the need to look to the private sector for support more certain,” adds Dorsey.

Moses and Dorsey also have business experience, on top of their medical credentials. Moses, a management consultant, runs the Alerion Institute, which conducts studies on research policy, and Alerion Advisors, LLC, which advises nonprofits and corporate boards on strategy, organization and governance. Dorsey is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Moses says the National Institutes of Health, which supports $32 billion a year for research, has already reduced the proportion of grants to individual investigators — the historical producers of most biomedical advances — and is focusing instead on collaborations, multicenter clinical trials and large-scale projects such as the Human Genome Project.

Inflation associated with conducting research at universities is running at three to four times the base U.S. rate of inflation, decreasing the amount of research by one-third every three years, he adds.

Meanwhile, Moses and Dorsey say, the pharmaceutical and drug device companies — which spend roughly two-thirds of the estimated $100 billion spent each year on biomedical research in the United States — are focused on large clinical trials and late-stage research, rather than the basic research that fuels future innovation. He says they are, understandably, spending research dollars on projects most likely to yield short-term returns, even at the expense of investment in diseases that are severe, common and cannot be prevented or treated effectively.

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