Ophthalmologist and Physician-Scientist
Four Things You Need to Know about Federal Funding for US Medical Research

Four Things You Need to Know about Federal Funding for US Medical Research

Scientists, physicians, researchers, and other academics recognize that Convergence in Healthcare is the best way to ensure the US remains a leader in medical innovation. According to a 2016 report authored by leadership from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and supported by experts from other top American universities, Convergence in Healthcare is the single best strategy to address the complex health needs of a growing global population, reduce the cost of healthcare in the US, and allow the US to stay competitive in the area of medical innovation.

While the Convergence in Healthcare movement faces a number of obstacles, one of the most elemental is the lackluster federal funding for medical research in the US. To better understand these financial difficulties, listed below are four important facts about government funding for healthcare-related research initiatives in America.


  1. Funding for medical research in the United States declined dramatically between 2003 and 2015.

While the US medical R&D sector grew steadily throughout the 20th century, scientists across the country were especially optimistic between 1998 and 2003, when the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is the largest public funder of medical research in the world, saw its budget double from $13.6 billion to $27.1 billion. Unfortunately, between 2003 and 2015, the NIH’s capacity for funding medical research subsequently declined by an alarming 22 percent. Its current budget still remains lower than its peak 2003 levels when accounting for inflation.




  1. Levels of funding for medical R&D have seen some growth since 2016.

While the US science research budget is far from where it needs to be to fully integrate Convergence in Healthcare into the medical sector, there have been some modest gains in recent years. After assuming the presidency in 2009, Barrack Obama designated an increase of $20 billion for science research and development within the national budget, even as financial circumstances were tenuous following the global economic recession of 2007-2008. Within this same bill, he allotted an additional $10 billion to the NIH, and later proposed NIH funding be raised to $33.1 billion in the 2017 fiscal year.

In spite of proposed cuts to the NIH from the current administration, the legislative branch fortunately seems to appreciate the importance of the NIH’s biomedical research. The organization’s budget increased by $2 billion in 2016 and 2017, and it was awarded another increase of $3 billion in 2018 in support of medical innovation.


  1. International competition in medical innovation is on the rise — and funding has everything to do with it.

Even with these modest NIH budget increases, the US must reevaluate its fiscal priorities if it wants to maintain its longtime position as a world leader in medical research and development. According to a National Science Foundation report from early 2018, the US currently leads the world in science and technology R&D, but its strength wanes as other countries — particularly those in Asia — are increasing their funding. The US was responsible for 57 percent of the world’s total medical R&D spending in 2004, but 10 years later, that figure had fallen to just 44 percent. Much of that loss was attributed to an increase in medical research projects in nations such as Japan, India, South Korea, and China. In total, Asian countries increased spending by around 10 percent every year between 2004 and 2014. Today, China alone has risen to rank as the fourth most prolific producer of high-impact biomedical research in the world.


Not only are these countries increasing their national budgets for medical R&D, but they are actively looking for ways to expand convergence-based research projects. If the US wishes to maintain its prominence as a leader in this field, it will need to do both as well.


  1. Research shows most Americans support government investment in medical and science R&D.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2018 indicates that around 80 percent of Americans believe government investment in medical research usually pays off over the long term. These results reflect the same positive feelings toward science and medical R&D exhibited in past surveys from 2014 and 2009. It is also important to note that investment in medical research is supported by people from a wide range of demographics and across both of the major political parties.

Given this support from the majority of the American people and the healthcare industry’s need for greater financial assistance, the federal government is well poised to consider an increase in the science R&D budget. According to experts from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the NIH specifically requires a “sustained, steady increase” in its budget to compete with agencies from other countries at their current pace. A boost of this nature would give the NIH the ability to support groundbreaking, long-term research projects in human health, as well as the fiscal freedom to further the Convergence in Healthcare movement.