The top 10 global R&D institutes

A medical researcher conducting an experiment using a microscope
Here we rank the top global R&D institutes by using the Nature Index. (ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

Translational science is the backbone of biomedical research, and it is often the work of academic and R&D institutes to take on early, risky science, and then seek out the help of biopharmas to take it to the finish line.

Many new drugs and diagnostics would never have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for these institutes, and our top 10 are the most prolific when it comes to collabs and research pacts with the life sciences industry, with many big-name scientists and alumni working at biotech spin outs from our leading institutes.

They also are more likely to take on disease areas with limited commercial prospects, but work at the cutting edge of traditional areas like cancer as well, especially in the new immuno-oncology boom.

But while biopharma often does the heavy lifting in late-stage trials and manufacturing, what these institutes do requires a lot of cash: Before the COVID-19 pandemic started sweeping across the globe in December last year, Research!America totted up the numbers of total U.S. investment in medical and health.

The firm’s report shows growth in investment across every sector over the last six years, with industry growth leading at $36.5 billion, followed by the federal government at $9.1 billion.

In 2018, total U.S. medical and health R&D investment was $194.2 billion. Of that:

  • Industry invested $129.5 billion in medical and health R&D (66.7%).
  • Federal agencies invested a total of $43 billion (22.2%).
  • Academic and research institutions, including colleges and universities, independent research institutes, and independent hospital medical research centers invested $15.7 billion of their own funds (8.1%).
  • Foundations invested $2.3 billion (1.2%).
  • State and local governments invested $2.1 billion (1.1%).
  • Voluntary health associations and professional societies invested $1.5 billion (0.8%).

For the third straight year, the growth rate of medical and health R&D investment outpaced the growth rate of overall health spending.

This looks impressive, but more needs to be done. “R&D spending still represents only about 5 cents of every health dollar spent,” the research firm said. “This growth in R&D investment is positive and welcome, certainly,” said Research!America's chair, the Honorable Michael Castle.

“However, our nation's total investment is not tracking with disease burden. Increased investment in medical and health R&D is essential to ending diseases that are taking time and quality of life from Americans and people across the globe.”

Wedded to this issue now is COVID-19. One of the most laudable aspects of these institutes is how quickly they have rallied to help seek out new and repurposed treatments, diagnostics and vaccines. Still, more cash will need to be funneled into these institutes before the next pandemic or epidemic hits, with a focus on preventive drugs and vaccines for infectious disease. 

A quick note on how the top 10 were chosen: We ranked the top institutes using the Nature journal’s Index, rather than direct funding amounts, given that all these institutes have investments beyond life sciences.

The Index tots up the largest contributors to papers published by a subset of 55 journals among the 82 journals tracked by the Nature Index from January 2015 to December 2018.

The Nature Index uses article count (AC) and Fractional Count (FC) to track research output. Below is the top 10 they have devised using this methodology, and the corresponding FC count by each institute.

Check out the top ten research institutions below.

1. Harvard University: 2,312.65

2. National Institutes of Health (NIH): 1,332.54

3. Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS): 1,034.32

4. Stanford University: 1,027.41

5. Max Planck Society: 991.32

6. University of California, San Francisco (UCSF): 754.28

7. Yale University: 748.5

8. University of Pennsylvania (Penn): 687.75

9. University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego): 680.75

10. University of Oxford: 670.64

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