The silver lining to the budget cut “crisis”

As I mentioned in the Dispatch (“Pinching pennies”), there’s a lot of chatter about the impact of impending budget cuts on  the academic-medical-research complex.

And despite the fact that the cuts are really very small in relation to the government’s deficit and spending crisis, they’re still being considered “draconian penalties” by the medical research community. 

But as I pointed out, the bulk of this funding actually goes to research on drugs. Which isn’t necessarily in the best interest of real public health. In addition, another sizeable portion of research funding is already tied up in ongoing “big science” pork barrel projects.

The only REAL drawback to these spending cuts is that new, smaller research initiatives WILL get less funding. And, unfortunately, these sorts of smaller, less costly trials are usually where real new medical insights are uncovered.   

Yet even on the brink of these budget cuts, $3.5 billion of new funding has been allotted to a potentially very useful initiative—the new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Which actually focus on real patient outcomes instead of theories.

But there are some new ideas for raising private research funding that put a voice and a vote back in the hands of citizens and patients who are most affected. Those who don’t have the luxury of waiting decades for cures we’ve been promised are “just around the corner.”

Granted, the long-term success of such alternative approaches to medical research and research funding remains to be determined. But these changes will have at least one valuable result. They will surely decrease the government’s role—as well as that of universities and teaching hospitals—in calling all the shots when it comes to what medical research is needed and wanted by patients and the public.

While key career beneficiaries of the current dysfunction are calling this a “crisis,” the fact is these long-overdue federal spending cuts should present an opportunity for critically needed reform of biomedical research. After all, the Chinese character for “crisis” is a combination of the ancient pictographs for “danger” and “opportunity.”


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