Viewpoint: Biomedical research a wise investment

By Sen. Susan M. Collins


Earlier this year, The Jackson Laboratory announced it will increase wages and hire 300 more workers by 2020. This exciting plan by the Bar Harbor-based scientific institution demonstrates the tremendous benefits of biomedical research in both improving human health and growing Maine’s economy.

Biomedical research has the power to transform lives. Promising research is leading to breakthroughs in our fight against such devastating diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and MS.

Government plays a critical role in investing in basic scientific research. Since fiscal year 2015, Congress has increased funding for National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $9 billion, or 30 percent. There is simply no investment that promises greater returns for America than our investment in biomedical research.

New studies by United Medical Research and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology demonstrate that these investments provide particular benefits to rural states, including Maine. In addition to advancements in health, these investments help boost skilled workforce development, support good-paying jobs, generate in-state sales, contribute to the tax base, and promote innovation clusters that strengthen regional economies.

Last year, thirteen institutions in Maine, including Jackson Lab, MDI Biological Lab, Maine Medical Center, the University of New England, the University of Maine, Bowdoin College, and others received 160 NIH grants totaling nearly $100 million to expand the frontiers of science. In addition, to the NIH, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided nearly $54 million in grant funding to 19 Maine research sites.

In 2017, Maine received $443,000 in NIH funding toward workforce training and development grants. These investments are helping Maine create a 21st century workforce and rewarding career opportunities. There are 255 bioscience industry business establishments in Maine providing 6,630 high-paying jobs. Since 2014, the scientific research and development sector in Maine has seen greater job growth for young workers compared to other sectors of the economy, and pay is on average 1.5 times higher than those in other sectors. In 2017, this was $57,000 for scientific R&D jobs versus $38,500 in other sectors.

The two studies also evaluated how these investments ripple throughout our economy. In 2017, NIH funding of $90 million in Maine generated more than $200 million in sales for other Maine businesses and supported 1,500 jobs in those businesses. In addition, our scientific research sector generated $24 million in taxes and other revenues for state, county and municipal governments.

Of course, the ultimate purpose of biomedical research is to improve human health, and these federal investments have significant impacts on public health in our state. Forty-six percent of Mainers are enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid, exceeding the national average of 35 percent, and spending on these programs is nine percent of Maine’s total Gross Domestic Product, which is also above the national average. Compared to other states, Maine ranks 8th for the rate of deaths from opioid overdose, 9th from cardiovascular disease, 15th from Alzheimer’s, and 16th from cancer. Clearly, NIH-funded research that leads to improved health has the potential to substantially help people in Maine and to address the state’s rising health care costs.

A changing economic landscape has caused a great deal of disruption and anxiety in Maine and other largely rural states. The people of Maine have always faced challenges with a great work ethic and an innovative entrepreneurial spirit. Those same qualities, combined with wise federal investments in biomedical research, are building a new and vibrant economy.

Susan Collins is Maine’s senior U.S. senator.

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