Dear Members of Congress: Don’t Gut the NIH Budget

10/19/12

In 1973, research spearheaded by Herbert Boyer at the University of California San Francisco and Stanley Cohen at Stanford University led to the discovery of recombinant DNA technology and, in turn, genetic engineering. That basic scientific investigation, supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), ultimately spawned an entire industry. What we now call biotechnology and a company we now call Genentech were the beginnings of a vast series of inventions that have advanced commerce and human health around the globe.

More recently, the mapping of the human genome, completed in 2003, is driving revolutionary advances in science. The Human Genome Project, also fueled by NIH funding, has created new private-sector technologies including gene sequencing, consumer genomics, and personalized medicine. A study by Battelle calculates that the Human Genome Project has helped drive $796 billion in economic activity and supported 310,000 jobs in 2010 alone.

Today, the continued vibrancy of the biomedical industry in California and nationwide depends on many things, including a predictable and consistent regulatory review process, sufficient and appropriate coverage and payment policies and intellectual property protections. But the industry would not exist without the essential investments in basic research the federal government makes through the NIH.

Unfortunately, now, automatic federal spending cutbacks known as sequestration threaten the future of research and development and our nation’s global competitiveness in the fields of drugs, medical device and diagnostics. While China and South Korea have committed to government funding increases of 10 percent year over year, U.S. federal funding for research and development during the past decade has stalled.

A $2.5 billion cut to the NIH budget next year, which is what the blunt instrument of sequestration requires, would result in 2,000 fewer funded research grants, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This would mean fewer research teams working on the cures and treatments of tomorrow, as well as canceled or postponed purchases from companies that manufacture research tools like flow cytometers, mass spectrometers and gene sequencers used by scientists in their labs. A recent study conducted by United for Medical Research estimates that NIH funding cuts under sequestration would lead to 33,000 fewer jobs nationwide — 5,000 in California alone — and an overall $4.5 billion decrease in economic activity.

California is the worldwide leader in biomedical investment, research and development, with more than 2,300 biomedical companies, along with public and private research institutions, advancing scientific knowledge and developing new diagnostics tools, treatments, and technologies addressing diseases and illnesses like cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious diseases.

California’s life sciences industry is also an important engine of economic growth, employing nearly 268,000 workers statewide, paying more than $20 billion in annual wages and accounting for $18.6 billion in exports to markets around the world. Venture capital investment has been important, but private investment builds upon inventions that originate from federal research funded by the NIH and National Science Foundation, which totaled $4.5 billion in California last year. Together, industry, research universities and institutions, venture capital and the NIH comprise one of the most successful and important public-private partnerships in our country.

It is essential that Congress funds the kind of critical research needed to meet patient and public health needs of tomorrow.

We urge legislators in Washington to safeguard and sustain this essential public-private partnership that produces improved public health, economic growth and job creation.

David Gollaher, Ph.D., is president and chief executive officer of the California Healthcare Institute (CHI). Based in La Jolla, CHI is a non-profit public policy research organization representing more than 250 leading medical device, biotechnology, diagnostics and pharmaceutical companies and public and private academic biomedical research organizations. Follow @

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