Less money is being invested into medical research in the United States, yet more is being invested worldwide, especially in Asia, finds a study—“The Anatomy of Medical Research: US and International Comparisons”—published in January in JAMA.

“In 2012, total US funding of biomedical and health services research was $116.5 billion, or 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP). The largest increase in funding occurred between 1994 and 2004, when funding grew at 6% per year,” the authors wrote. “However, from 2004 to 2012, the rate of investment growth declined to 0.8% annually and (in real terms) decreased in 3 of the last 5 years. The exceptions were 2009 and 2010, accountable to stimulus from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As a percentage of national health expenditures, medical research investment remained stable, ranging between 4.2% and 4.7% from 2004 to 2012.”

In comparison, “global medical research expenditures by public and industry sources in the United States, Europe, Asia, Canada, and Australia combined increased from $208.8 billion in 2004 to $265.0 billion in 2011, growing at 3.5% annually,” the study explained. Among the regions of the world included in this study, the U.S. “demonstrated the slowest annual growth in investment (1.5% per year), followed by Europe (4.1% per year) and Canada (4.5% per year). Asian countriesincreased from $28.0 billion in 2004 to $52.4 billion in 2011, or 9.4%per year, with especially large increases in China, India, South Korea, and Singapore.”

The decline in investment in the U.S. is a concern because the country “has historically been where research has found the greatest support and has generated more than half the world's funding for many decades,” according to a press release describing the study, which adds that few previous analyses have compared medical research in the U.S. with other developed countries.

"The analysis underscores the need for the United States to find new sources to support medical research, if the clinical value of its past science investment and opportunities to improve care are to be fully realized,” the authors wrote. “Substantial new private resources are feasible, though public funding can play a greater role. Both will require non-traditional approaches if they are to be politically and economically realistic. Given global trends, the United States will relinquish its historical innovation lead in the next decade unless such measures are undertaken," the authors conclude.

In an accompanying editorial, authors Victor J. Dzau, MD, and Harvey V. Fineberg, MD, PhD, said that the U.S. Congress doesn’t have a long-term strategy for research investment, “nor does it house a science and technology planning mechanism to devise such a strategy.”

To achieve a strategic vision for research, the U.S. needs a “roadmap that sets priorities, describes needed structural and organizational changes, and creates an environment that enables innovation,” Dzau and Fineberg wrote. “The needed changes include better coordination across funders and research institutions, development of new funding sources, improved grant evaluation processes, changes in education and training, rationalization of capital investments, and improved operational efficiencies.”