Special Communication
Scientific Discovery and the Future of Medicine
January 13, 2015

The Anatomy of Medical ResearchUS and International Comparisons

Author Affiliations
  • 1The Alerion Institute and Alerion Advisors LLC, North Garden, Virginia
  • 2Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
  • 3Boston Consulting Group, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 4University of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, New York
  • 5Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California

Copyright 2015 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA. 2015;313(2):174-189. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.15939

Importance  Medical research is a prerequisite of clinical advances, while health service research supports improved delivery, access, and cost. Few previous analyses have compared the United States with other developed countries.

Objectives  To quantify total public and private investment and personnel (economic inputs) and to evaluate resulting patents, publications, drug and device approvals, and value created (economic outputs).

Evidence Review  Publicly available data from 1994 to 2012 were compiled showing trends in US and international research funding, productivity, and disease burden by source and industry type. Patents and publications (1981-2011) were evaluated using citation rates and impact factors.

Findings  (1) Reduced science investment: Total US funding increased 6% per year (1994-2004), but rate of growth declined to 0.8% per year (2004-2012), reaching $117 billion (4.5%) of total health care expenditures. Private sources increased from 46% (1994) to 58% (2012). Industry reduced early-stage research, favoring medical devices, bioengineered drugs, and late-stage clinical trials, particularly for cancer and rare diseases. National Insitutes of Health allocations correlate imperfectly with disease burden, with cancer and HIV/AIDS receiving disproportionate support. (2) Underfunding of service innovation: Health services research receives $5.0 billion (0.3% of total health care expenditures) or only 1/20th of science funding. Private insurers ranked last (0.04% of revenue) and health systems 19th (0.1% of revenue) among 22 industries in their investment in innovation. An increment of $8 billion to $15 billion yearly would occur if service firms were to reach median research and development funding. (3) Globalization: US government research funding declined from 57% (2004) to 50% (2012) of the global total, as did that of US companies (50% to 41%), with the total US (public plus private) share of global research funding declining from 57% to 44%. Asia, particularly China, tripled investment from $2.6 billion (2004) to $9.7 billion (2012) preferentially for education and personnel. The US share of life science patents declined from 57% (1981) to 51% (2011), as did those considered most valuable, from 73% (1981) to 59% (2011).

Conclusions and Relevance  New investment is required if the clinical value of past scientific discoveries and opportunities to improve care are to be fully realized. Sources could include repatriation of foreign capital, new innovation bonds, administrative savings, patent pools, and public-private risk sharing collaborations. Given international trends, the United States will relinquish its historical international lead in the next decade unless such measures are undertaken.