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Carrington College Blog

U.S. researchers work to remain leaders in medical research

January 28, 2015

According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the U.S. is losing traction as a world leader in medical research due to a national decrease in funding.

The study particularly focused on the period of 2004 to 2012, in which other countries around the world actually had an increase in research funding; specifically, Asia overall has tripled its investment in medical research over that timeframe. If this decrease is not addressed, it could result in slower medical advancements across the health care industry, affecting every field from dentistry to pharmacy technology.

Overall, researchers noted that it’s imperative for the U.S. to seek out new sources of funding over the next decade to maintain its leadership position in regard to medical research and advancements.This course of action will require dedication from those within the health care industry, particularly researchers, who can work to make medical research trials more efficient and better communicate overlapping work.

Of course, this can be a major challenge for any researcher, considering at any given time thousands of medical trials are going on simultaneously, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The study

Researchers from the Alerion Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Boston Consulting Group, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Stanford School of Medicine collaborated in order to quantify the total amount of public and private investment, as well as personnel, devoted to medical research both in the U.S. and in countries around the globe.To do so,  the team considered factors such as patents, drug approvals and publications.

The scientists found that while medical research funding in the U.S. increased 6 percent overall between 1994 and 2004, it actually decreased by 0.8 percent per year from 2004 to 2012. Researchers uncovered several trends in funding from this period, particularly that funding favored medical devices, bioengineered drugs, and late-stage clinical trials over research that was still in the early stages.During this time, cancer and HIV/AIDS research received a significant amount of funding and the percentage of life science patents the U.S. contributed worldwide went down by 6 percent.

These numbers raised several questions for the research team, primarily why medical research funding would be on the decline despite the fact that technology is increasingly making it possible to reach advancements more effectively and efficiently. While the study focused mostly on the economics surrounding the topic of medical research and globalization, it does note that advancements bring hope both to patients and the scientific community, as well as lead to lucrative opportunities for pharmaceuticals companies and those that manufacture health care devices.

The need for medical research funding

The study hypothesizes that one of the potential reasons for this decline in funding is decreasing public support, as many Americans have shifted focus to other political and economic issues.This in turn may be due to a lack of major advancements in relation to diseases that affect millions of Americans, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, hearing loss and obesity. Yet, the need for medical research funding in the U.S. is extremely important, especially for those in the health care industry.

Advancements in patient care are reliant on research being completed, verified and approved, all of which cannot happen without proper funding. All in all, this will make finding new ways to fund research projects a major priority for American scientists, pharmaceuticals researchers and health care staff over the coming years.

The case of the Ebola vaccine

In the wake of the Ebola outbreak in 2014, people around the world were looking for a vaccine to prevent the disease from spreading. In a candid discussion with the Huffington Post, Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, explained:3

“NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here.’ Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

While the NIH is only one aspect of medical funding in the U.S., the organization is responsible for a significant number of research trials across a broad spectrum of medical fields. The Ebola vaccine just serves as one example of the importance of funding and highlights the need for finding new sources.

“The anatomy of medical research: US and international comparisons,” by Hamilton Moses III, David H. M. Matheson, Sarah Cairns-Smith, Benjamin P. George, Chase Palisch, MPhil, E. Ray Dorsey, JAMA, Jan. 13, 2015.

“The state of clinical research in the United States: An overview,” by Institute of Medicine (US) Forum on Drug Discovery, Development, and Translation, National Academy Press, 2010.

“Ebola vaccine would likely have been found by now if Nnot for budget cuts: NIH Director,” by Sam Stein, Huffington Post, Oct. 12, 2014.