The State of Biomedical Research Funding in 2012

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A recent article in Cell (1) outlined the prospects for research funding in many countries around the world. While there were some where funding was expanding, the immediate overall picture was not encouraging. In most countries research is largely sponsored through government agencies and this funding has generally suffered because of the “great recession” of 2008. In the United States the Federal Government’s main agency for biomedical research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has seen little or no increase in its core budget for at least 3 years. Apropos of this trend, the President’s budget for fiscal year 2013 requested $30.86 billion for NIH, which is the same overall level as fiscal year 2012. However, because of a large, two-year “Stimulus” package that was passed in 2009, the full effect of this “flat line” NIH budget is only now being felt as “Stimulus” funds expire. More ominous is the failure of a special bipartisan committee of the US Congress to reach an accord on reducing the Federal Government deficit. This started a countdown that could lead to automatic cuts in all government agencies. For the NIH the cuts could translate into 8 to 10% decreases, which would go into effect with the 2013 budget that begins on Oct 1, 2012.


Similarly, in Canada the finance minister has instructed the Canadian Institute of Health Research and Health Canada to plan for at least 5% cuts in their budgets. In Britain the UK Medical Research Council has been allocated a small increase although funds for all other fields of science have been frozen from 2011 to 2013. On the continent of Europe the picture is mixed. The German research and education ministry, BMBF, is expected to receive a 9% increase in funding in 2012 while in France INSERM will see increases of only 0.4%. Recently, both Spain and Italy installed new government leaders, so the level of funding for science in these countries has yet to be set. Australia’s economy has fared relatively well compared to other developed countries and their National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) budget is expected to grow by about 3% in 2012. In Japan research budgets have been stagnant but may increase as part of a stimulus to the economy to combat the devastating effects of last year’s earthquake. In South Korea research budgets are expected to increase modestly.


By far, the largest increases in biomedical funding are occurring in developing economies. In Brazil the FAPESP in San Paulo State will increase its total budget by 12%. In India the two main health research agencies, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) are expected to receive increases of at least 20%, although final figures have yet to be set. Estimating budgets in China is difficult. However, observers believe that spending on biomedical research there will also increase next year by 20%. In Singapore funding for the BioMedical Research Council (BMRC) is expected to grow by small amounts for the next 4 years.


Fortunately, in many countries there are signs that a modest recovery has begun. This is cause for cautious optimism because research funding is closely tied to overall economic health. Hence, it is possible that after the immediate economic storm has passed, funding for biomedical research will improve.


Joe Lorenzo

Farmington, CT, USA

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