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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Editorial: NIH funding a smart investment

Washington needs to curtail spending, but the National Institutes of Health is an essential federal expense that should be bolstered, not slashed.

So it is encouraging to see local congressional members of both parties support the program that powerfully contributes to the nation’s health and economy.

Republican Reps. Dennis Ross and David Jolly, and Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, recently attended an event at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, where they vowed to work together to protect medical research from further budget cuts and to seek additional funding.

Castor, for her part, plans to file a bill to guard the NIH from future sequester cuts.

The NIH funds the majority of biomedical research across the nation, particularly in universities. Yet over the last two years the NIH budget has been cut 11 percent, according to Castor’s office.

This is damaging to the economy and lives, because the research not only can lead to lifesaving discoveries, it creates jobs and generates private investment.

NIH officials estimate that every dollar of NIH funding generates $2.21 in local economic growth.

The matter is particularly relevant in Tampa, where the University of South Florida ranks 43rd in the country in research dollars and, as the Tribune’s Jerry Stockfisch reports, is in the top 15 for the number of patents and startup companies founded as a result of research.

Paul Sanberg, USF’s vice president for research and innovation, says 30 percent of the school’s $1.5 billion budget is driven by research contracts and grants, a major reason the school has a $4.4 billion regional economic impact. The Tampa Bay Partnership estimates the life sciences account for about $3 billion in local wages.

Or consider the health and economic benefits from research at Moffitt reported by Stockfisch. The hospital conducted 241 clinical therapeutic trials last year affecting 1,134 patients.

Discoveries at Moffitt labs have helped launch 10 new companies, and since 2010, 23 patents have been issued on Moffitt inventions. More than 100 discoveries have been licensed for industry product development.

NIH, which now invests about $30 billion a year, reports that in 2012 its research supported an estimated 402,000 jobs.

The private market cannot sustain the kind of wide-ranging research, which may address rare diseases or long-shot propositions, supported by NIH.

The NIH findings provide the foundation for a biomedical industry that is considered the global leader in innovation and that exports more than $90 billion a year in goods and services.

NIH officials point to the Human Genome Project as an example of research’s economic payoff.

The government’s $4 billion investment into examining human DNA led to discoveries that, NIH officials say, were responsible for an estimated $965 billion in economic growth from 1988 to 2012.

“This kind of research clearly pays for itself,” Castor says.

She, Ross and Jolly all understand that even more important than the economic return on investment is the impact on Americans’ health.

As Castor puts it, “Funding instability for the NIH weakens and delays the type of medical research that leads to breakthroughs to help millions of Americans living with devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.”

Supporting such research should be a national priority.

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