The number of scientists in the United States has increased more than nine-fold since 1965 and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget has increased four-fold to about $30 billion in 2015, revealed a new US study. The findings suggested that although more money is being spent on medical research, fewer new drugs are being approved and people are not living much longer than they did in the 1960s.
The number of new drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has about doubled, and life expectancy has stayed relatively constant, gaining about two months per year in the past half-century. Among the multiple reasons suspected for the stall in medical progress could be too much focus on getting published in prestigious journals and excessive red tape and regulation.
The study is based on analysis of funding through the NIH, as well as the number of scientific studies being published, life expectancy and the number of new drug approvals, or New Molecular Entities (NMEs) approved by the FDA. Co-author Arturo Casadevall, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, said, "We are spending more money now just to get the same results we always have and this is going to keep happening if we don't fix things."
Co-author Anthony Bowen, a visiting scholar at the Hopkins school of health said, "There is something wrong in the process, but there are no simple answers. It may be a confluence of factors that are causing us not to be getting more bang for our buck. For instance, researchers today must go through lengthy consent processes for taking blood samples, and must catalog each trip to a conference for government oversight."
The study said, "Such tasks add to the non-scientific burdens on scientists who could otherwise spend more time at the bench." Other researchers argue that modern medical challenges are more complex than ever, and finding cures for Alzheimer's and cancer simply takes more time and effort. Casadevall said, "Many of the best drugs used today were developed decades ago, including insulin for diabetes and beta-blockers for cardiac conditions."
The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.