Recent indications that the Trump administration is seeking to slash approximately $5.8 billion from the National Institutes of Health budget has touched off debate about public versus private medical research and the impact those budget cuts could have on the development of new therapies and medicines to treat patients.
While the administration's proposed cuts in the NIH's $32 billion budget could mean as many as 8,000 fewer grants per year for basic medical research, the effects could be much broader because government research often produces only early stage results. Investment and development of that basic research by the private sector is needed to yield innovative medicines and make them accessible to patients.
A panel discussion hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a nonpartisan public policy research institute, recently added to the debate when the audience was told private companies deserve more credit for life saving medical innovations and drugs, particularly in the last part of the last century and into this one.
Dr. Thomas Stossel, a former visiting scholar at the AEI and professor at Harvard Medical School, who moderated the discussion, said he believes many researchers are more interested in impressing other scientists than in solving problems. And he said at the AEI hosted discussion that 87 percent of all new drugs are produced by the private sector, compared to 13 percent from public sector research.
Stossel has been criticized for his view that funneling huge amounts of government money into research facilities is not the best way to create life-saving outcomes. He also acknowledged he benefited from government funding during his 45 years of research, particularly from the NIH.
But Stossel is critical of what he describes as the government-academic-biomedical complex, which he said dramatically increased funding for research facilities following World War II.
"This was a large increase in government support of medical research, primarily by the NIH, which led to the construction of what I think is the biggest research institute in the world," Stossel said.
Prior to that, the emphasis was on solving problems, but as time went on scientists became more interested in impressing each other rather than producing life saving solutions, Stossel said, adding that much of the government-academic research has no real world benefits.
Was there innovation during this time? "You are damn right there has been," Stossel said, adding it cannot be denied that there have been great drugs and devices, and people are living longer.
But the innovation that saves lives is coming primarily from the private sector. The outcomes from government-backed research have not matched the huge increase in funding.
Stossel faced criticism earlier this year after he questioned, in an Wall Street Journal op-ed, the earmarking of an extra $4.8 billion to the NIH, funding that was included in the 21st Century Cures Act.