May 17th, 2012
Posted by Ken Walz
The National Institutes of Health has faced some critical fire lately: for funding studies that don’t turn into treatments, for not paying enough heed to the “valley of death” (the stage between bench science and clinical trials), and for not funding enough basic research because of budgetary constraints. But few have asked: how could the agency better select prospective projects?
Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston published an intriguing theory: base NIH funding similarly to how investment companies handle portfolios, complete with return on investment calculations. But what would a rate of return be in biomedical research? Years of life saved per dollar spent, say Andrew Lo and his colleagues in their paper published in PLoS One.
But as the authors and others admit, “years of life saved” is probably an overly simplistic measure. Perhaps the authors were trying to make a point in the most extreme way possible.