Japan now has its own version of the National Institutes of Health, two years after it was proposed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Science reports that the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development officially launched last month with an initial budget of about $1.2 billion, a miniscule total compared to NIH's $30 billion budget. Makoto Suematsu, JAMRD's first president, says that his goals include increasing the portion of the budget for the agency that is under his direct control, and improving coordination between the different ministries that have a hand in biomedical research funding in the country.
Abe first proposed an agency modeled after NIH in 2013 as part of a broader initiative from his administration to stimulate Japan's economy by reforming the country's science funding mechanism. Biomedical funding in Japan is a complex system of moving parts in which many different ministries and government agencies have a say in how funding is distributed, how it is to be used, and how a product is potentially commercialized.
Abe's vision for Japan's own NIH was to simplify the process. The country's academic community was not entirely pleased with his proposal, however.
Worried that an emphasis on applications would cause funding for basic research to suffer, the heads of 52 scientific societies signed an "Emergency Declaration" to express their worries about how resources would be distributed and how researchers would be trained, Science says. Those concerns have largely disappeared though, as most of the funding that will go to academic researchers will be from government entities other than JAMRD.
The agency will make about $170 million in funding available later this year.