Report: Every dollar of NIH research funding doubles in economic returns

Research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) generated $2.46 in economic activity for every $1 of funding in 2023, a total of $92.9 billion, according to an annual report (PDF) published March 25 by biomedical research advocacy organization United for Medical Research (UMR). That’s nearly $3 billion more than in 2022.

“When Congress invests in the [NIH], lives are saved, jobs are created and families and local economies across the country benefit,” the report said. “Even before discoveries are made, NIH research grants are supporting local jobs and economic activity.”

The agency’s total operating budget for 2023 was $47.7 billion, according to UMR, against an official budget of around $46.5 billion. Of this, $37.8 billion was awarded to researchers, more than 80% of which are affiliated with academic institutions, businesses and nonprofits. That money makes its way back into the economy through the purchase of research-related goods and services as well as jobs, about 412,000 of which were supported through NIH-funded employment in 2023, the UMR report said. The $36.7 billion awarded in 2022 supported around 399,600 jobs. 

To come to its conclusions, UMR used the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ Regional Input-Output Modeling System, or RIMS II model (PDF), to analyze employment and economic activity linked to NIH research activity in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. This model looks at how projects impact a region’s economic activity. 

The report comes days after Congress finally approved its budget for fiscal year 2024. As expected, it includes a much smaller increase in the agency’s budget than in years prior. The NIH will have $47.1 billion to spend in 2024—around $300 million more than last year. The amount is only a third of the $920 million increase originally requested by  President Joe Biden.

In a press release about the new report, UMR President Caitlin Leach warned that shrinking the NIH budget could have lasting ramifications. 

“Failure to continue to invest robustly in medical research through the NIH will immediately reduce funding for research and its benefit to local economies,” Leach said in the release. “However, the longer-term consequences of a shrinking NIH budget will be far greater, with a significant negative impact on biomedical innovation, public health and the U.S. economy.”

UMR is made up of research institutions, patient and health advocates and private industry members to advocate for funding at the NIH. Members include the Alzheimer's Association, the American Association for Cancer Research, Stanford University, Johnson & Johnson, Harvard University and more.