Publicly funded biomedical research paves way for private R&D

April 06, 2017

Although the U.S. National Institutes of Health may face decreased funding under the new presidential administration, recently published research in Science argues that public investments in biomedical research play an important role in driving private sector R&D. In an analysis of 365,380 grants awarded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 1980 and 2007, researchers from Harvard Business School, MIT and Columbia University find that 8.4 percent of grants directly generated patents, primarily by hospitals and universities. A much larger share – approximately 30.8 percent – of NIH grants awarded during that time produced research cited by private-sector patents. While policymakers often focus on direct patenting as a measure to capture the economic returns to publicly funded science, the authors’ findings suggest that this may not be the best metric. Instead, they propose that indirectly linked patents demonstrate that publicly funded scientific research builds a foundation for private sector R&D. For additional reading, the study has been covered by numerous outlets, such as The Scientist, Newsweek, The Washington Post, PBS, The Los Angeles Times, and The Huffington Post.

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