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Investment in biomedical research yields jobs, billions in return

by May. 11, 2011, 1:40 PM

Amanda Kussrow
Federal funding from the National Institutes of Health contributed to the development of a new laser technique being used at Vanderbilt to aid in drug discovery. Research Amanda Kussrow is pictured. (Joe Howell / Vanderbilt)

Federal investment in scientific research is a major driver of job growth and economic activity, two economic reports released Tuesday indicate.

The reports were released as budget deliberations got underway on Capitol Hill demonstrate the impact of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding on U.S. job growth and global competitiveness.

One of the reports, from the nonprofit coalition United for Medical Research (UMR), concluded that the NIH directly and indirectly supported nearly 488,000 jobs and produced $68 billion in new economic activity in 2010.

UMR represents research advocacy organizations and university groups, such as the American Heart Association and the Association of American Universities, as well as individual institutions including Harvard, Stanford and Vanderbilt University.

The other report, by the Battelle Memorial Institute, an Ohio-based charitable trust, concluded that the government-supported Human Genome Project helped drive $796 billion in economic gains between 1988 and 2003. The resulting research and industry activity supported 310,000 jobs last year alone.

“The $3.8 billion initially invested in the genome project “has already been returned to the government via $49 billion paid in taxes,” Greg Lucier, chief executive of Life Technologies, which sponsored the Battelle analysis, said in a statement accompanying the report.

“The financial stake made in mapping the entire human genome is clearly one of the best uses of taxpayer dollars the U.S. government has ever made,” Lucier said.

Knowledge about the human genome, he predicted, will usher in “new forms of ‘personalized medicine’ and genetics therapy … (as well as) cures for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS and many more terrifying diseases.”

Pioneering personalized medicine, discovering new cancer drugs and cracking the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease are some of the major research projects underway at Vanderbilt.

The UMR report calculates the number of jobs supported in each state by NIH funding. The greatest number of jobs (71,633) were created in California, but Tennessee ranked 15th, with 10,870 jobs supported by NIH funding in 2010.

Life-saving discoveries

The report, entitled, “An Economic Engine: NIH Research, Employment, and the Future of the Medical Innovation Sector,” was written by one of the nation’s leading business economists, Everett M. Ehrlich. It examines the impact of life-saving innovations that have resulted from NIH-sponsored research, including monoclonal antibody therapy.

“This knowledge filters through the medical industries, strengthening U.S. research and testing laboratories, pharmaceutical producers, equipment manufacturers and, ultimately, practitioners and caregivers,” writes Ehrlich. “But this knowledge base must be continually renewed and refreshed, because once it is created, it can be imitated.”

Congressional debate

As reported yesterday by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the analyses by Battelle and UMR were released the same day that the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, said that Republicans would insist on at least $2 trillion in long-term cuts in government spending.

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck declined to comment Tuesday on whether the reports might affect the speaker’s support for federally sponsored research, saying he defers on such matters to Rep. Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee. A committee spokesman told the Chronicle that Upton’s office was considering the matter.

Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in response to the analyses that he has “consistently supported” federal spending on medical research, including the Human Genome Project. “Whether such federal funding can be sustained or increased is something the Congress and administration will have to determine,” Cochran said in an answer provided by his office.

Watch video about Vanderbilt University’s personalized medicine and drug discovery programs.

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