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Assessing U.S. International Competitiveness in Biomedical Research

By Ideas Lab Staff July 27, 2012

A new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation looks at the increased global competition for biomedical advantage.

Where the U.S. was once the world leader in advancing life sciences such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and medical devices, it now faces the threat of losing that advantage from decreased federal investment, and growing competition from overseas.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation claims that with its leadership, the U.S. has an extremely globally competitive, high-wage life science industry that supports more than 7 million jobs and contributes $69 billion annually to U.S. gross domestic product.

But federal investment in biomedical research through the National Institute for Health has decreased almost every year since 2003.  And other countries have not only boosted their funding of this research, they’ve also put in policies like tax incentives that are meant to support biomedical innovation.

China, the ITIF reports, has identified biotechnology as a key strategic industry and intends to spend $308.5 billion in biotechnology over the next five years. The Foundation says that if this trend continues, the U.S. government’s investment in life sciences research will probably be barely half that of China’s in current dollars, and roughly one-quarter of China’s level as a share of GDP.

The Foundation argues that the challenge to U.S. biomedical research competitiveness isn’t just that other countries are spending more on biomedical R&D.

“Another problem is the lack of consistency and predictability in the level of U.S. biomedical research funding. To be sure, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) included a welcome, albeit temporary, increase in NIH funding. But the positive impact of that ephemeral surge has not been maintained, and NIH funding is threatened with a drastic rollback by the looming automatic sequestration scheduled to be triggered January 2, 2013 (unless Congress reaches a budget deal in the interim).”

The Foundation claims sequestration would cut NIH funding by at least 7.8 percent, leading to a $2.4 billion reduction in 2013, the largest cut in the agency’s history.