Medical Research at Risk: The Backstory


Medical Research

The goal of medical research is to extend the length of life and to improve the quality of life for the population. Medical research includes the basic, applied, and translational research intended to aid and support the body of knowledge in the field of health and medicine. Medical research can be divided into two general categories: the evaluation of new treatments for both safety and efficacy in what are termed clinical trials, and all other research that contributes to the development of new treatments. A wide range of options to prevent and treat disease requires knowledge of a wide range of biological, behavioral, and social factors. Medical research helps us learn how our bodies work, why we get sick, and what we can do to get and stay well.

The federal government plays an essential role in funding medical research in the United States, primarily through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH is part of the Department of Health and Human Services and is made up of 27 Institutes and Centers, each with a specific research agenda, often focusing on particular diseases or body systems. Currently funded at $30.6 billion, the NIH is the world’s leading supporter of medical research; research that has had an immeasurable impact on all of our lives by enhancing public health, lengthening life, reducing the burden of illness and disability and most importantly, saving lives.   We must continue the vigorous pursuit of new breakthroughs in science, health and medicine that are supported through the NIH to improve the entire spectrum of patient care, from prevention, early detection, and diagnosis, to treatment and long-term survivorship.  Moreover, NIH funding does more than save lives.  It fuels the U.S. economy and creates jobs in our communities.
One of the most important investments our country can make is in medical research, but our ability to do so for the benefit of patients and their loved ones is contingent on a strong, bipartisan commitment from Congress to provide the necessary funding for the NIH.

Since the completion of the unprecedented doubling by Congress of the NIH budget in 2003, appropriations for the NIH have remained essentially flat. When one factors in the rate of biomedical inflation, the agency has effectively lost approximately $6 billion, or 20 percent, in purchasing power and therefore its ability to fund life-saving research.

And as a result of Congress and the White House’s inability to reach agreement on a balanced alternative to deficit reduction, President Barack Obama recently signed an order authorizing the government to begin cutting $85 billion from federal agencies, officially enacting across-the-board reductions known as sequestration. 

Sequestration, originally slated to go into effect Jan. 2, was delayed two months with the hope that the new Congress might reach a more balanced and comprehensive budget agreement.   With the enactment of the sequester, the NIH budget has been slashed by 5.1% or approximately $1.5 billion. This means now that NIH is funded at $29.1 billion and the NCI at $4.8 billion.  NIH director Francis Collins, MD, said recently that the agency will try to “prioritize things that seem most promising, most critical to public health, but there’s no question there will be across-the-board damage to virtually everything.”

These cuts are particularly disconcerting to the research community because it comes at a time when scientific opportunity has never been greater, and administering a reduction of this scale in such a short timeframe will be devastating to the biomedical science enterprise.  It will require arbitrary funding cuts that will prevent critical research projects from reaching completion and will ensure that other potentially lifesaving research will not even get off the ground. 

If we are to address the health challenges of an aging and increasingly diverse population, and remain a vibrant force in the global economy, America needs more investment in medical research, not less. We respectfully urge Congress and the Administration to work together on a solution that preserves the nation’s investment in medical research and the health of the American people.

 Economic Impact of Medical ResearchImage

NIH drives job creation and economic growth. NIH research funding directly supports hundreds of thousands of American jobs and serves as a foundation for the medical innovation sector, which employs more than 1 million Americans. NIH funding also forms one of the key foundations for long-term U.S. global competitiveness in industries like biotechnology, medical device and pharmaceutical development, and more.

• According to a United for Medical Research Report, in 2011, NIH investment supported 432,000 jobs and generated $62.13 billion in economic activity.

• In 2010 alone, the human genome sequencing projects and associated genomics research and industry activity directly and indirectly generated $67 billion in U.S. economic output and supported 310,000 jobs that produced $20 billion in personal income. (Source: Battelle)

 • The $3.8 billion the U.S. government invested in the Human Genome Project from 1988 to 2003 helped drive $796 billion in economic impact and the generation of $244 billion in total personal income.  (Source: Battelle)

 • According to a 2008 study by Families USA, each dollar of NIH funding generates more than 2 times as much in state economic output through the “multiplier effect” in the communities where research is conducted.

More information on sequestration

Under Threat: Sequestration’s Impact on Non-defense Jobs and Services
A report commissioned by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

United for Medical Research: “The Impact of a Sequester on the National Institutes of Health and the Implications for Jobs and the U.S. Economy”

American Heart Association: Sequestration Information Page

United for Medical Research: “Leadership in Decline”

The White House: Examples of How the Sequester Would Impact Middle Class Families, Jobs, and Economic Security.



Alliance for Aging Research: Silver Book Series
An almanac of more than 1000 facts, statistics, graphs, and data from more than 200 agencies, organizations and experts on the burden of chronic disease and the value of investing in medical research.

American Association for Cancer Research: Cancer Progress Reports
Reports and call to action that detail how scientific discoveries are transforming the prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

AIDS Research: broad health and economic benefits
A report by amfAR,The Foundation for AIDS Research that describes how HIV and AIDS research supported by the NIH has yielded important recent advances and holds great promise for significantly reducing HIV infection rates and providing more effective treatments for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Battelle: Economic Impact of the Human Genome Project
A report by the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice estimates the return on the federal government’s investment in the Human Genome Project.

New England Journal of Medicine: Role of Public-Sector Research in the Discovery of Drugs and Vaccines
A report by the New England Journal of Medicine describing how the boundaries between the roles of the public and private sectors have shifted substantially since the dawn of the biotechnology era resulting in the public sector having a much more direct role in the applied-research phase of drug discovery.

Research!America: The National Institutes of Health: Working with Academia and the Private Sector to Save Lives
A report describing how taxpayer-supported NIH provides funds to hospitals, universities, small businesses, independent research institutes and government labs that strive to understand the biology and risk factors of disease.

United for Medical Research: Advocacy reports
United for Medical Research has published several reports, many of which highlight the significant economic benefits of sustaining funding for the NIH and the impact of sequestration on medical research.


Facts Sheets and Data Compilations

American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures
These regularly updated Facts & Figures publications present the most current trends in cancer occurrence and survival, as well as information on symptoms, prevention, early detection, and treatment.

American Heart Association: NIH Investments by State and Congressional District
A compilation of data showing the amount of NIH funding awarded to each U.S. state, congressional district, city and research institution for fiscal years 2005-2011

American Society of Clinical Oncology:
​Launched in 2011 to mark the 40th anniversary of the U.S. National Cancer Act, provides a dynamic and interactive timeline history of progress against cancer, expert perspective on remaining challenges and other useful tools.

Coalition for the Life Sciences: Sequestration Action Zone
The Coalition for the Life Sciences is an alliance of six non-profit professional organizations working together to foster public policies that advance basic biological research and its applications in medicine and other fields..

FASEB: NIH District and State Information Fact Sheets
Fact sheets for each U.S. state and select congressional districts that summarize NIH funding in each area, describe the impact that funding has had on local businesses, and highlight research breakthroughs at local institutions.

Research!America: “America Speaks” Poll Data
A summary of data from Research!America’s annual poll to gauge Americans’ views on issues related to biomedical and health research, including their support for research funding, the impact research has had on their quality of life, and the health issues of greatest concern to them.

An advocacy effort led by Research!America in collaboration with more than 60 organizations.

The White House: Examples of How the Sequester Would Impact Middle Class Families, Jobs, and Economic Security
A fact sheet from The White House that provides examples of how the sequester would impact middle class families, jobs, and economic security.


American Society of Hematology: NIH Advocacy Video
A 2 minute video message to Congress, urging them to avoid sequestration and devastating cuts to medical research.

Research!America: “Scientists Explain Why Research is At Risk”
Video clips in which scientists tell in their own words how research drives medical progress and how cuts to the federal research budget jeopardize scientific discovery and economic growth.

Science Works for U.S.
A project of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and The Science Coalition (TSC) to demonstrate the impact that federally funded university-based scientific research has on the nation.


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