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Genome Project, Related Federal Investments Reap 'Massive Bang' for Buck: Report

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US investment in the Human Genome Project and the ensuing federal funding for genome science has reaped massive economic benefits, with nearly a trillion dollars having been returned on these investments, according to a new study from the R&D analysis organization Battelle.

The report is an update from a 2011 study, which found that the $3.8 billion the US invested in the HGP and related research between 1998 and 2003 had generated $786 billion in economic impact.

After adding in the years 2011 and 2012, and reworking the survey metrics, Battelle found that genomics-related fields from biomedicine to energy and agriculture have had a $965 billion impact on the US economy. This economic activity all stemmed from a total of $14.5 billion in federal investments between 1988 and 2012, according to the report.

The report, "The Impact of Genomics on the US Economy," shows that the impact of the HGP and the technologies, companies, and other federal funds that were the result of that investment has been increasing over time, even after the impact of the recent recession was factored in.

In 2012, for example, human genome sequencing projects and related research and industry activities directly and indirectly generated $65 billion in US economic output, added $31 billion to US gross domestic product, and supported 152,000 jobs.

"As the largest, single undertaking in the history of life sciences, the Human Genome Project has paid back extraordinary dividends on the US government's investment," Carrie Wolinetz, president of United for Medical Research, the biomedical research funding advocacy group that released the report, said in a statement.

The release of the report was synchronized with a briefing on Capitol Hill, scheduled for today, in which National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and others are expected to point to these numbers as evidence of the value of NIH's investment in the HGP and the genomics research that has followed it.

It is likely that Collins and others will use these numbers as an argument for maintaining federal investments in NIH broadly, as Collins has pointed to the impact of the HGP many times when making his case for increasing government funding for biomedical research.

The Battelle analysis, which used numbers provided by Dunn and Bradstreet, shows that that the HGP has provided "a massive bang" for the federal bucks that were put into it and later genomics investments, Batelle Group Leader Martin Grueber, a report co-author, told GenomeWeb Daily News yesterday.

"This is federal investment at its finest. This is what you would hope all federal investments, especially those in research and development, will lead to," he said.

Beyond the initial $3.8 billion spent on the HGP between 1990 and 2003, the US Government has invested another $8.5 billion in HGP-related research and funding support, the study found.

Comparing that total investment to the output number of $965 billion, Battelle found that this funding through 2012 has yielded a leverage ratio of $65 returned on every $1 invested.

The authors broke down the genome-related fields into six areas: bioinformatics; genetic, genomic, and related testing; genomic biologics and diagnostic substances; genomic instruments and equipment; genomics R&D and biotech; and drugs and pharmaceutical genomics R&D.

The private sector employment numbers in these six sectors show a mixed bag during and after the recession years, with some seeing overall gains and others slipping. Genomic testing firms increased employment from just under 4,100 (2008) to over 6,230 in (2012), while genomics R&D/biotech companies employed fewer people in 2012 than in 2008, around 9,300 compared to 11,433 at the beginning of the period.

Grueber said Batelle's analysis showed that the shifting in employment was due in part to merger and acquisition activities in certain spaces, to companies disappearing or changing their trajectories, and to general "growth and dynamism" in the field.

"For example, there were a number of companies that were focused in on the genomics research side, but what they've ended up doing is finding genomic targets. The [companies were] bought up, and [now] they are using the targets and building a biopharma entity off of those targets. So, they are no longer doing genomics R&D: they are now doing pharmaceutical R&D," Grueber explained.

Battelle also estimated that the per-person spending on human genome project-related efforts amounts to around $2 per person, per year. That investment has resulted in more than 4.3 million job-years of employment and $54.8 billion in tax revenues from the genomics sector and its suppliers, the report found.

Grueber says that it is important to recognize that the returns seen so far are "just the tip of the iceberg."

"You are still going to get these impacts going forward as you look at the lineage of this effort, and the lineage of the research as it is applied in new ways in research, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, energy, agriculture, and other applications," he told GWDN.

"The size in the annual growth of those impacts will very likely increase each year," said Grueber. "When you look at these numbers — and they're very, very impressive — all it takes is for a pharmaceutical blockbuster to arrive that has a very strong personalized medicine context, and you could be talking about billions more of economic result. In my opinion, it is just a matter of time before we start seeing some of those."