How valuable was the U.S. government's investment in the Human Genome Project? A new study estimates the financial impact on the U.S. economy of the public project and the activities of the growing genomics industry at nearly $1 trillion.
The research and development organization Battelle, based in Columbus, OH, conducted the study, which updates their 2011 findings. It was released in June by United for Medical Research (UMR) in Washington, DC, which advocates for increased NIH funding.
To generate its findings, Battelle relied upon a widely used economic model that incorporates information on more than 420 industrial sectors and estimates the impact of one sector on others. The organization also used data from NIH, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation to determine research and development funding from federal sources and pharmaceutical companies, as well as current and historic employment data from several sources, including records from Dun & Bradstreet, which provides commercial information on millions of businesses.
The study concluded that federal investment of $14.5 billion in genomics work from 1988 through 2012 yielded an economic output of $965 billion, including $293 billion in personal income for people working in genomics-related industries. The study says that each dollar spent has ultimately yielded a return of about $65 to the U.S. economy. In addition, it estimates that genomics-related industries generated and stimulated $54.8 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenues.
Carrie Wolinetz, PhD, president of UMR, says that the report sheds light on “how pervasive genomics has become as a technology in all sorts of industries,” including agriculture, medicine, pharmaceutical development, and biotechnology.
However, some economists argue that the number of jobs created and the contributions to personal income can be misleading when it comes to calculating the value of a research investment. “These are all costs,” says Robert Topel, PhD, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in Illinois, because investment in research and salaries represents money that could have been used for other purposes.
The value, Topel says, comes from the societal benefits the research produces. For health investments, these benefits are often realized in terms of reductions in mortality or improvements in quality of life. In this case, the benefits of new medical interventions based on the human genome would need to be evaluated and weighed against their costs.
Studies have calculated the benefits of specific medical treatments and tests, but Topel says it's more difficult to make such calculations for basic research efforts, because the impacts can be widespread and indirect. “Basic research needs to be funded by public funds if we're going to get it done,” he says. “The hard part is figuring out: is it worth it?”
“This report represents one piece of data among many that we use in trying to make the case for sustained investment in the NIH,” Wolinetz says. Genomics “is still a relatively new science,” she adds, so health impacts are difficult to quantify.
However, she says that the Human Genome Project's significance has been demonstrated by the thousands of diseases now known to have a genetic cause, the increasing number of genetically targeted cancer drugs, and the growing number of people who have been able to make informed health decisions by knowing more about their genetic makeup.
- ©2013 American Association for Cancer Research.