Is the biomedical research system broken? Johns Hopkins says yes

Arturo Casadevall

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health took a close look at the state of affairs in the drug research business over the past 50 years, and found plenty of reasons for despair.

Bottom line on the overall return on investment: It's bad. The number of scientists working in the field has increased nine-fold since 1965, they say, while the NIH budget has increased four-fold and the number of published papers has soared. And all that added scientific power and cash leave life expectancy gains exactly where they started, at two months per year.

The biomedical research system in the U.S., they conclude, is broken.

"The idea of public support for biomedical research is to make lives better. But there is increasing friction in the system," says co-author Arturo Casadevall, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Bloomberg School. "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."

What happened? Possibly scientists gathered the low hanging therapeutic fruit long ago, leaving more researchers to reach ever higher in search of new therapies to fight cancer or Alzheimer's.

It may also be due to all the little bureaucratic hangups that slow research, such as requirements to gain permission to gather blood samples or the paperwork associated with attending conferences. Casadevall also isn't happy with the rip and run approach to preclinical research, which leaves an estimated $28 billion in wasted/unreproducable research spending on papers that often only end up retracted later.

"The medical literature isn't as good as it used to be," Casadevall says. "The culture of science appears to be changing. Less important work is being hyped, when the quality of work may not be clear until decades later when someone builds on your success to find a cure."

- here's the release

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