A new study makes a strong case for the importance of government support for basic research: Federally funded studies contributed to the science that underlies every one of the 210 new drugs approved between 2010 and 2016.
Researchers at Bentley University scoured millions of research papers for mentions of those 210 new molecular entities, or NMEs, as well as studies on their molecular targets. Then, they looked to see which of those studies had received any funding from the National Institutes of Health.
The authors say the study, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to capture the full scope of public funding behind FDA-approved drugs, both directly and indirectly. They also say it points to the need for continued federal funding for basic science — which the Trump administration has previously suggested slashing.
“Knowing the scale of the investment in the basic science leading to new medicines is critical to ensuring that there is adequate funding for a robust pipeline of new cures in the future,” said Dr. Fred Ledley, one of the study’s authors and a Bentley University researcher who studies the intersection of science and industry.
Here’s a look at the findings:
The NIH chipped in billions in research funding
More than $100 billion in NIH funding went toward research that contributed, either directly or indirectly, to the 210 drugs approved between 2010 and 2016. That’s roughly 20 percent of NIH spending since 2000.
And of those 210 drugs, 84 were first-in-class drugs, meaning they treat disease through novel mechanisms or molecular targets. More than $64 billion in NIH funding was poured into research that ultimately contributed to the development of those drugs.
“First-in-class drugs are of particular importance, since they represent significant innovations arising from basic research to identify new drug targets,” Ledley said.
The study also measured NIH contributions by funding years, which is calculated by multiplying the number of projects times the number of years they’re funded.
The bulk of funding was for basic science
More than 90 percent of the publications were related to the biological targets of the drugs, not the drugs themselves. The authors of the new research say that shows that NIH funding for basic science complements industry research and drug development, which is mainly focused on applied science.
The most common source of NIH funding was an R01 grant
The R01 grant — which supports health-related research — was by far the most common kind of grant that funded science that supported the 210 new drugs approved between 2010 and 2016. The agency has given out nearly 119,000 R01 grants related to those drugs.