Will Pruning the Biomedical Field Keep it Alive?
In an editorial for The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, Stossel warned that the $4.8 billion earmarked for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in the 21st Century Cures bill, will not close the gap between the exploding population of seniors and the need for medical innovation.
Stossel wrote that the NIH system promotes careerism more than meaningful medical advancements.
"Where I really lay the fault [is] at the the academic institutions who train too many people [and] don't pay salaries ... Right now, the downsizing is simply an economic reality," he told MedPage Today.
Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, took issue with that argument, which she derided as "scientific birth control."
"I applaud young people who seek and obtain a science education," she said, noting that scientific training has value beyond laboratories and the clinic -- in biotech, in law, in journalism, and in the political arena as well.
Jeffrey Flier, MD, former dean of Harvard Medical School, agreed that there is a clear mismatch between the "scope of the research ecosystem" and the revenues to support it. But he said another of Stossel's arguments, that universities should take more financial responsibility for supporting their own faculty, is not realistic because universities don't have the money.
So the model that could develop might involve a greater portion of funding from philanthropic sources who support a smaller group of "outstanding scientists who are less involved in the rat race to get money ... almost constantly to support their work," Flier said.
And he said that while he would not want to see all of academia focus solely on industry-funded research, "having a good interchange between academia and industry is a positive."
Academics can help develop the knowledge base, but not the product, Flier said, and industry can provide the capital and the skills.
Woolley also disagreed with Stossel about the value of increasing NIH funding. The NIH's 2015 budget was $32.3 billion, barely 5% of the $585 billion appropriated for defense that same year, she noted.
"I think it's important to defend our nation," she said, "but let's have a nation worth defending."
A 2017 Research!America survey, conducted by Zogby Analytics, found that 52% of Americans would give an additional $1 more in taxes each week if they knew the money would be directed towards medical research.
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