How will the Biden administration affect funding for life science research?
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The advent of a new administration in Washington often portends major changes in budgeting and spending, and thus it will be in the administration of Joe Biden, if he adheres to the 2020 Democratic Party platform.
But one thing that is not likely to change is the ongoing uptick in funding for research in the life sciences — particularly the funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and other federal agencies focused on life science research.
The reason for that is simple: Covid-19 is still with us, and based on recent numbers, it shows no sign of leaving anytime soon — despite the development of vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna, and other pharmaceutical companies. In a speech on the weekend prior to his inauguration, Biden said that it was his goal “to help restore faith in America’s place in the frontier of science and discovery.” Science, he added, “is discovery … it’s about hope.”
And while politicians — whether they be city council members or presidents — are known for their hyperbolic declarations that don’t always lead somewhere, Biden is not an unknown quantity. As a member of the Senate for decades, he has an easily-examined record on matters of all kinds, including life science funding and research.
According to medical journal The Lancet, Biden “has had a long-standing interest in medical research.” As Vice President under Barack Obama, he was in charge of the administration’s Cancer Moonshot Task Force, which “brought a new urgency to the Federal government efforts to fight cancer, and forged new partnerships and created new programs and policies.” A report issued at the end of the administration’s term shows that significant progress was made in marshaling resources, both public and private, to “achieve a decade’s worth of progress in five years” in the fight against cancer.
With a pandemic still raging, Biden has pledged to bring the same commitment to fighting Covid-19 — in which he promises “a decisive public health response” that includes development of vaccines, funding for its distribution, and “the full deployment and operation of necessary supplies, personnel, and facilities.”
If Biden does indeed increase budgets for life science research, he will be following in a decades-strong tradition. The budget for the NIH, for example, has nearly quadrupled since 1995, growing every year, including in 2021; in its budget for this year, Congress approved a 3% increase in the agency’s funding, with the total allocation for the year at $42.9 billion, $1.25 billion more than the 2020 level.
Last year, the NIH awarded 10 grants for the establishment of the first-ever Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases (CREID), a “global network will involve multidisciplinary investigations into how and where viruses and other pathogens emerge from wildlife and spillover to cause disease in people.”
That initiative is a sign of things to come; the Covid-19 pandemic has raised concerns among scientists that humanity could see a rise in zoonotic diseases, resulting in even greater public health threats in the years to come.
One of the lessons of the pandemic is that we cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to healthcare research. Along with preventing pandemics, the NIH will continue funding the many other areas in which it is active, including cancer research, artificial intelligence, Alzheimer’s treatment, etc. That funding will go to universities, startups, pharmaceutical firms, and other organizations that are doing deep-dive research in all these areas.
While much of that funding goes to academic research, the NIH provides billions of dollars annually for small life science research firms, who are at the forefront of developing scientific initiatives into products and services that will help solve some of our most pressing health problems.
In fact, it was such non-dilutive government funding that enabled the pharmaceutical firms to quickly develop the Covid-19 vaccines, based on the use of mRNA technology to enable the development of antibodies to the virus. That technology has been around for years, based on research conducted by small and startup biotech firms and labs stretching back decades.
Another lesson learned from Covid-19: Listen to the science. The vaccines are the result of years of research and extensive collaboration between scientists all over the world, and that collaboration succeeded. If that approach was able to bring a solution to one of the biggest problems we’ve faced in modern times, it can help solve many other problems, too — and there is no doubt that the new administration will apply that Covid-induced lesson to other problems, too.
Ram May-Ron is a managing partner at FreeMind.