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U.S. is Falling Behind on Medical Research: What's the Hold Up?

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Medical research in the United States is falling behind other nations, which could hinder advances in the fight against disease, according to a study published by the American Medical Association.

Medical research funding from the federal government in the United States has fallen over the last several years. Meanwhile, many other nations around the globe are increasing their investments into new medical treatments and diagnostic techniques.

"US medical research spending increased 6% per year from 1994 to 2004 but only 0.8% per year between 2004 and 2012. The United States' share of total global investment declined by approximately 13% from 2004 to 2012 while the share of Asian economies increased by 7%," Victor J. Dzau and Harvey V. Fineberg wrote in an article outlining their conclusions.

Patents and copyrights for medically-related advances are also down in the United States, compared to just a few decades ago. In 1981, United States researchers produced 57 percent of patents for life sciences, compared to 51 percent today. Americans developed advances behind 73 percent of the most valuable patents in 1981, a contribution that dropped down to 59 percent in 2011.

Proof-of-concept research, carried out early in the study of disease, has been particularly hindered by the stalled funding. Most of the research dollars remaining have, instead, been funneled into late-stage clinical trials and the development of medical devices. Such changes can prevent revolutionary new treatments from advancing to later stages of development.

"The diseases where the need is greatest - autism, depression, Alzheimer's, Type 2 diabetes - are diseases that have been relatively underfunded compared to cancer and HIV/AIDS," Hamilton Moses, co-author of an article detailing the findings, reported in a statement.  

A change in research priorities can help direct funds to diseases and conditions once largely ignored, authors of the report stated. Until this year, funding for Ebola was scarce, but the record epidemic currently in progress in western Africa has driven funding to find a vaccine or cure. Developments in the fight against the disease have quickly advanced with the inflow of dollars to such research. Researchers concluded that such investments can benefit citizens of a nation, even in the short term.

"That's why Asia is investing; Asia knows that biomedical research is a vehicle for them to enhance their international stature and the growth of their own populations," Moses told the press.

China is still lingering far behind the United States in medical research funding, but the growth in their investments is rising significantly.

Restore the US Lead in Biomedical Research, an article examining the effect of funding on the progress of medical research, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

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