U.S. Biomedical Research at a Precipice


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to recruit top scientists like Dr. Pan, constructing world-class laboratory infrastructure, and winning industry R&D dollars with tax subsidies and grants. These initiatives in biomedical research parallel prior efforts in the clean energy, where China has outspent the U.S. by almost 2-to-1 in absolute terms, and established itself as the leading market globally. In its most recent Five Year Plan, the Chinese government committed $308 billion across seven scientific areas, including biotechnology.

Congress needs to increase funding of the NIH, if not for the advancement of medicine, then for economic self-preservation. Specifically, NIH funding needs to be directed towards translational research to reduce the number of clinical failures by improving our fundamental understanding of disease origin and progression, by supporting industrywide initiatives such as identifying better markers of disease progression, and by co-sponsoring early “proof of concept” trials with industry, as well as conducting the longitudinal studies required in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, where so many drugs have failed.

These funding plans need to be long term, at least five years in length. The long development times of both new medicines and new scientists have made the U.S. complacent about changes that will not be apparent for another five to 10 years, but will be difficult to reverse.

The decline in both academic and industry research investment in the United States is especially discouraging because other mature economies such as Japan and Europe have maintained their investment in biomedical R&D. Simply put, the US has abdicated its global leadership in biomedical research, and must respond now if it wants to reverse the course.

Justin Chakma is an investor at Thomas, McNerney & Partners. Dr. Reshma Jagsi is a physician-scientist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Stephen M. Sammut is a senior fellow at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Justin Chakma is a life sciences venture capital investor with Thomas, McNerney & Partners in La Jolla, CA. He has published over 20 articles in peer-reviewed journals on healthcare policy and innovation, including the New England Journal of Medicine. Follow @

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2 responses to “U.S. Biomedical Research at a Precipice”

  1. the_caganer says:

    Where to begin? First, have you kept up with studies that examine the reproducibility of government funded basic research? Have you looked at number of startups that are begun by immigrants? Have you looked at the immigration laws of the US? Have you looked at the effects of regulations (from financial to FDA to EPA to CPSC to …) on startups? How many PhDs that US educates have better opportunities at home due to the HOSTILE regulations in America? Have you looked at how the US woos those same PhDs to stay? It doesn’t. Have you looked at the regulations in countries such as India, China, etc.? How about taxes – corporate, exit taxes (yes if you come to the US to start a business and want to leave at retirement the US government will take a LARGE chunk of money from you), capital gains, etc.?

    But your solution, is more taxes (the government has no extra money) so they can fund more unreproducible research.

    You are smart.

  2. Robert Jones says:

    Glen Begley and Stewart Lyman both wrote articles this week about the newfound honesty within the scientific community about the quality of research. We are slowly and reluctantly facing the fact that reproducible science matters. The question that rarely gets covered is the relationship between increased funding and increased quality of what we are paying for. Perhaps we could increase the quality and the money will come.