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Institute of the Future Urges US to Increase Spending on Basic R&D

Institute of the Future Urges US to Increase Spending on Basic R&D

WASHINGTON-US spending on research and development has fallen over the last 20 years from 3% to 2.6% of the Gross Domestic Product, and the United States now ranks behind Japan and Germany in R&D spending, according to a study released by the Institute for the Future, a California-based think tank sponsored by 23 research-oriented pharmaceutical companies.

The report, entitled the Future of America's Research-Intensive Industries, stressed that both the government and private industry must increase funding for basic R&D if the United States is to retain its standard of living and global competitiveness.

It urges the development of a new system of support for R&D, "built not on the fear that drove Cold War R&D policies, but on the premise that R&D provides the best hope for improving the quality of life for all our citizens."

At a press conference on Capital Hill announcing the release of the report, J. Ian Morrison, PhD, president of the Institute for the Future, outlined five steps the country needs to take to increase R&D efforts (see table ).

Mary L. Good, PhD, under secretary for technology, Department of Commerce, said that "proposed congressional cuts would eliminate at least 35,000 scientists and engineers from R&D, closing university and private sector labs and research facilities across the country."

Dr. Good warned that if we "dissolve teams of scientists and engineers, discourage the best and brightest from pursuing technical careers, and close our world class facilities, we may never be able to rebuild our capabilities."

She added that the US currently ranks 28th in the percentage of public R&D funding dedicated to civilian research, just ahead of the Czech Republic.

Richard J. Kogan, president and chief operating officer of Schering-Plough Corporation, said that past R&D has made the United States a worldwide technological leader in medicine. He pointed out that "it took 14 years of R&D before my company made a penny on recombinant alpha interferon, which is now used to treat 16 oncologic and viral diseases."

The pharmaceutical industry is currently responsible for more than 90% of all new US drug discoveries, he said. "The burning issue now is not only whether the industry can continue bringing new products to patients to treat unconquered diseases, but also whether we can continue covering the expenditure for leading-edge research."

The annual medical costs of only seven major uncurable diseases account for about half of today's health-care bill, he said. However, many of those diseases are within reach of effective pharmaceutical control or cure. "Medical innovation is the best long-term solution for providing cost-effective quality care."

Meeting the Population Crisis

Leon Lederman, PhD, Nobel Laureate Physicist, and director emeritus, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batvia, Ill, said that R&D is needed to face the crisis in population growth in the next 50 years and the subsequent need for energy and food to support that growth without destroying the environment.

Dr. Lederman emphasized that the flow of young people into the sciences is crucial for R&D, and yet that flow has dropped off recently as the news of downsizing in the science industries reaches students in the universities.

He believes that we need to encourage more of our young people to pursue graduate degrees and commented that "if it were not for foreign students, our graduate schools would be half empty."

Five Steps to Increase R&D

1. Protect and maintain the amount that the government now spends on research.

2. Increase tax incentives to encourage private investment in R&D.

3. Create a regulatory environment that fosters innovation by reducing government-generated risk of litigation.

4. Protect intellectual property rights so that inventors and investors alike will receive a return on their R&D ideas and investments.

5. Maintain a healthy environment for cooperative research and development between private and government programs, joint ventures, and partnerships that cut across institutional and international boundaries.

From a presentation by J. Ian Morrison, president, Institute for the Future, Menlo Park, Calif.

 
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