WASHINGTON _ The federal government needs toadopt a more integrated approach when it budgets scarceresearch and development discretionary spending dollarsin an era of large federal deficits, according to a reportissued Wednesday by a joint committee of the NationalAcademy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine.
The report, Allocating Federal Funds for Science andTechnology, was requested by the Senate AppropriationsCommittee to address the criteria that should be used toallocate funds to research and development activities andhow to strike a balance among the different institutionsthat support such activities. Committee Chairman MarkHatfield (R-Ore.) asked for the report out of concern onhow the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would juggleits spending priorities at a time when it was confrontedwith a virtual freeze on its discretionary outlays.
Noting that the federal government's investments inscience and technology in the past 50 years have been a"spectacular success," Frank Press, chairman of thecommittee and currently senior fellow at the CarnegieInstitute, in Washington, said the central challenge nowfacing the executive branch and Congress is to develop a"more coherent" budget process.
Today, individual budgets, such as those for the NIH andthe Department of Commerce National Institute ofStandards and Technology, both of which supportbiotechnology research, are developed separately andsubmitted separately to Congress. The fragmentation iscompounded in Congress where different committeesaddress federal support for biotech research.
The joint committee recommended instead that theexecutive branch develop a government-wide annualfederal science and technology budget request thatreduces or eliminates some programs and boosts supportof others.
While Press and his colleagues did not advocate supportof one technology over another, they did lay out generalprinciples that could be applied to all research whether itwas for biotech drugs or a super collider. Competitivemerit review, much like NIH now uses to make newprojects compete with existing ones, should be applied toall research funded by federal departments.
Academic research centers, not companies, shouldreceive priority for funding, according to the report.University-based research "provides quality controlthrough grant competition and rigorous peer review" and"by linking research to education, funding projects atcolleges and universities reap the added benefit ofsimultaneously supporting the training of the nation'ssucceeding generation of scientists and engineers."
The report stressed the need for "continuing innovation tofoster long-term economic growth without discoveringentirely new resources." It praised diversity of research _both inside the federal government and amongmanufacturers _ that has led to important biomedicalinnovations.
Using the example of federal public education campaignsand new pharmaceuticals to treat high blood pressure, thereport said that an integrated research effort resulted in a60 percent decline in stroke mortality. Research inreducing the incidence of hypertension and for treatinghigh blood pressure was "funded predominantly by thefederal government and supplemented by hospitals andprivate sources."
"Private investment was essential but federal investmentwas equally important at many stages, both leading andfollowing privately funded research. Almost all theimportant technical decisions in both public and privatesectors, were made by those educated in researchuniversities and trained at least in part through federalfunded research," said the report.
The report reiterated the federal government's role inbasic research. Federal support for basic research used bypharmaceutical firms is "vital." Because drugs now arereplaced more quickly once they have entered the marketand because new agents are discovered that have strongeraction or fewer side effects, and generic drugs areintroduced expeditiously after a patent expires, the timeperiod during which a drug produces profits for acompany is much more narrow.
Consequently pharmaceutical firms must "increase theirpace of innovation, introduce more products in less time,increasing demands for a strong connection between thedrug firms research and development capacity with basicresearchers outside of the firm," according to the report.
Federal support for basic research is essential to "creatinga national economic advantage," said the report, notingthat "Amgen Inc. and Genentech Inc. did not exist 15years ago. Both were started from a base of academicsciences. Today they are major firms in their respectiveindustries. These and other successes well up from thescience and technology base supported by the federalgovernment . . ." n
-- Michele L. Robinson Washington Editor
(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.