BOSTON — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for a doubling of spending on biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health on Monday, arguing that the country is in danger of losing its status as a world leader in the development of new medicines.
The Massachusetts Democrat said funding for research should be better protected from annual budget battles to help encourage scientists to push ahead for the next big medical breakthroughs — work that often takes years to complete.
Warren told a breakfast forum of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Monday that government support for basic medical research benefits everyone through the development of new drugs and treatments. She said that’s particularly important for the economy in a state like Massachusetts which acts as an incubator for biomedical research.
She also said greater spending on medical research makes economic sense, calling the refusal to invest “the budgetary equivalent of cutting off your feet to save money on shoes.”
The NIH has been hit by the across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration. Warren said the cuts have forced layoffs and stalled critical research – a situation made worse by the recent 16-day partial government shutdown, which froze grants and sent thousands of researchers home.
The sequestration cuts have translated into a loss of $128 million in medical and scientific funding in Massachusetts, she said.
Warren argued that Private investors, who unlike the government face the pressure of having to turn immediate profits for shareholders, aren’t able to fill the gap.
She also warned that other countries are ready to pick up the slack if the U.S. continues to back away from support of biomedical research. She said China is dramatically investing in that area and that South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan are following suit.
“We are the world leader in this work only so long as we are willing to commit the resources that a world leader must commit,” she said.
The NIH’s budget is about $30 billion while the annual budget for the National Science Foundation is about $7 billion.
Warren said one way to increase their budgets while reducing the nation’s deficit is to trim billions in subsidies to oil, gas and agribusiness.
She also argued that money spent on biomedical research can reduce long-term government spending by lowering health care costs. She said a drug that could delay the onset of the most serious effects of Alzheimer’s disease by five years could save the economy hundreds of millions over the next several decades.
Asked how her proposal to double those budgets might fare in a divided Washington where many Republican lawmakers are skeptical of additional government spending, Warren said that support for medical research has typically won bipartisan backing.