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Falling from the Front of the Pack

The US is losing its historical lead in biomedical research investment and output, according to a new analysis appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The report notes that the portion of the global total that the US governmental research funding makes up declined from 57 percent in 2004 to 50 percent in 2012.

Hamilton Moses from the Alerion Institute and Alerion Advisors and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and his colleagues compiled data on research funding and productivity in the US and 40 other developed nations between 1994 and 2012. They also evaluated patents, publications, and more to gauge economic outputs of these funding efforts.

Overall, Moses and his colleagues report that biomedical research funding in the US grew by 6 percent each year between 1994 and 2004, but then that rate of growth declined to 0.8 percent.

As the combined total of public and private US research funding declined from 57 percent to 44 percent of the global total between 2004 and 2012, the researchers note that Asian countries increased their investment in science by about 7 percent. China in particular tripled its research investment from $2.6 billion in 2004 to $9.7 billion in 2012.

Patent output mirrors that decline as the US share of valuable global research patents fell from 73 percent in 1981 to 59 percent in 2011, they add.

"Given global trends, the United States will relinquish its historical innovation lead in the next decade," Moses and his colleagues write in JAMA. New sources of scientific funding in the US could include repatriation of foreign capital, innovation bonds, patent pools, and more, they say.

In a related editorial in JAMA, Institute of Medicine's Victor Dzau and the University of California, San Francisco's Harvey Fineberg note that the US, unlike the UK, Singapore, and other countries, does not have a long-term research investment strategy. This, they say, leaves scientific funding vulnerable to the vagaries of politics from year to year.

"To achieve a new strategic vision for research, the United States will need a roadmap that sets priorities, describes needed structural and organizational changes, and creates an environment that enables innovation," Dzau and Fineberg write.

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