Does Targeted, Disease-Specific Public Research Funding Influence Pharmaceutical Innovation?


  • Margaret E. Blume-Kohout


Public funding for biomedical research is often justified as a means to encourage development of more (and better) treatments for disease. However, few studies have investigated the relationship between these expenditures and downstream pharmaceutical innovation. In particular, although recent analyses have shown a clear contribution of federally funded research to drug development, there exists little evidence to suggest that increasing targeted public research funding for any specific disease will result in increased development of drugs to treat that disease. This paper evaluates the impact of changes in the allocation of U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) extramural research grant funding across diseases on the number of drugs entering clinical testing to treat those diseases, using new longitudinal data on NIH extramural research grants awarded by disease for years 1975 through 2006. Results from a variety of distributed lag models indicate that a sustained 10 percent increase in targeted, disease-specific NIH funding yields approximately a 4.5 percent increase in the number of related drugs entering clinical testing (phase I trials) after a lag of up to 12 years, reflecting the continuing influence of NIH funding on discovery and testing of new molecular entities. In contrast, we do not see evidence that increases in NIH extramural grant funding for research focused on specific diseases will increase the number of related treatments investigated in the more expensive, late-stage (phase III) trials.