The Trump administration is pushing for dramatic cutbacks at
the National Institutes of Health. The proposed $5.8 billion cut from the
agency's annual $32 billion budget would translate into 5,000 to 8,000 fewer
grants per year for basic medical research.
But the impact of such cuts would actually be much broader,
totaling $15 billion in lost economic activity and 90,000 jobs lost
That's because NIH isn't an isolated entity; it's a hub of
public-private partnerships. Without sufficient funding, these partnerships
would dissolve and America would lose an essential catalyst to biomedical
The idea for a new cure often begins in an NIH lab. In the
90s, NIH research on genes and molecules led to the development of Gleevec, a
chemotherapy drug that targets a signaling molecule inside cells, preventing
them from turning cancerous and multiplying. It's now on the World Health
Organization's List of Essential Medicines.
As recently as June, NIH researchers announced that they may
have found the genetic cause of Cushing's syndrome, a major hormonal disorder.
NIH research results can lead to a wide range of potential
medicines, but they don't turn into new drugs and therapies automatically.
Actually, only a very limited set of medicines trace their roots directly to
government funding. A 2011 study found that although 48 percent of medicines
approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration from 1988 to 2005
cited a public-sector patent or publication, only 9 percent of the medicines
were patented by public-sectors.
That's because government research tends to be early stage
-- it's often not specific enough to yield an actual experimental molecule. Rather,
private sector investment and development of the basic research is critical
towards creating innovative medicines and making them accessible to patients.
Bringing a drug to market is an arduous process. On average,
it takes $2.6 billion and 12 years of research and testing to bring a new drug
to the pharmacy shelf. The NIH will
never have sufficient resources to complete to this process -- but the private
sector does. It can funnel resources into the development and testing of new
To ensure that its discoveries don't linger as laboratory
curiosities but instead eventually become new medicines, the NIH is
increasingly working hand-in-hand with biopharmaceutical companies. For
instance, the NIH's "Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing
Molecules" program matches researchers with compounds to test ideas for
new applications. Eight biopharmaceutical companies, including giants
AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, and GlaxoSmithKline, participate in the program.
These partnerships kindle medical innovation. The
combination of basic NIH research and applied R&D by biotech companies
helps develop 75 percent of the most innovative new drugs annually.
The success of these private-public partnerships shouldn't
be surprising. Public research has spurred the private sector to develop
innovative products in a range of industries.
Consider the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Its
work in the digital realm launched the internet. Companies like Amazon, Skype, and Netflix
have built on this achievement to create products and applications that many of
us would now struggle to live without.
American innovation is built on public-private partnerships.
Cutting the NIH budget isn't even penny-wise, though it certainly would be
pound-foolish. The true cost of these budget "savings" is much too
Sandip Shah is the founder and president of Market Access
Solutions, a global market access consultancy, where he develops strategies to
optimize patient access to life-changing therapies. Joe Black is a director at