At risk: Unbiased medical research

On March 1, if Congress and the president do not reach some kind of fiscal accord, mandatory cuts to federal programs—sequestration—will take effect.

One of the many victims of such massive spending cuts will be the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the medical research arm of the Department of Health and Human Services. According to its director, Francis Collins, MD, the NIH, in a “profound and devastating blow,” will lose 6.4% of its budget.

Their loss, however, could be the drug industry’s gain.

Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine

In his book Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine, John Abramson, MD, writes of the rise of the pharmaceutical industry and private commercial research concomitant with the fall of government support and funding for the NIH.

In the early 1970s, very little research was sponsored by the drug companies; by 2002, 80% of funding was provided by for-profit medical research companies.

Why does it matter where the money comes from?

Dr. Abramson argues that private funding allows the drug companies to “hijack” medical research. Quality, unbiased scientific research is unpredictable. By controlling the money, private companies can direct the research—what is studied and how it is interpreted—to decrease unpredictable results and increase profit potential.

For-profit research companies, unlike the NIH, are not interested in funding studies that seek ways to save money or improve health without using expensive new drugs and/or medical devices.

Therefore, deep budget cuts to the NIH will hurt us all.


Related reading

Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine (P.S.) by John Abramson, M.D.,

Critical Condition: How Health Care in America Became Big Business–and Bad Medicine by Donald L. Barlett


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