Biomedical Research

Nation's Deans Offer Proposals to Improve Biomedical Research Effort

In a letter published in the May 27, 2015 issue of Science Translational Medicine, Allen M. Spiegel, M.D., the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean of Albert Einstein College of Medicine and 17 other deans of research-intensive medical schools call for a more predictable and sustainable system for funding the nation’s biomedical research enterprise.

Dean Allen M. Spiegel, M.D., joins 17 other deans at research-intensive medical schools in call for a more predictable and sustainable system for funding the nation’s biomedical research enterprise.
Allen M. Spiegel, M.D.
The letter notes that biomedical research is “more crucial than ever to the national agenda,” yet persistent constraints on federal funding, including from the National Institutes of Health, “threaten to undermine” the nation’s research effort. “The current research environment erodes time available for investigators to conduct important research, discourages innovative high-risk science, threatens to drive established investigators out of academic biomedical research in the U.S., and creates uncertainty for students and early career investigators,” the deans write.

Uneven Research Support

One key problem: funding provided by academic institutions for faculty research has grown faster than any other source of research support over the past 20 years. “We estimate that our respective institutions contribute between 20 and 40 cents on every dollar of federally sponsored research (direct and indirect) and 53 cents for each dollar of sponsored research support received,” the deans wrote. Adding to their burden, they note that the federal reimbursement rate for administrative costs borne by academic institutions has been capped at 26 percent, “while administrative requirements for oversight of sponsored research, protection of human subjects, biosecurity and biosafety, humane use of animals in research, training in responsible conduct of research, pre- and post-award review and submission, and many other compliance obligations have significantly increased.”


The deans offer several recommendations to make the biomedical research enterprise more sustainable, including:

  • Developing a partnership between academic institutions and the NIH to strengthen training and early career support of physician-scientists
  • Promoting stable research careers for the most creative academic scientists and offering stability to staff scientists
  • Creating a sustainable model with predictable growth in appropriations to the NIH and other research sponsors that is indexed to the relevant rate of inflation and projected over three to five years. That would allow both federal and academic institutions “to plan their investments in human and physical capital and manage expenditures more strategically.”

The letter’s lead author is Arthur S. Levine, M.D., dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. (Read news release from University of Pittsburgh.) In addition to Drs. Spiegel and Levine, the other deans who signed the letter are: Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Yale University; Nancy C. Andrews, M.D., Ph.D., Duke University; Karen Antman, M.D., Boston University; Jeffrey R. Balser, M.D., Ph.D., Vanderbilt University; Pamela B. Davis, M.D., Ph.D., Case Western Reserve University; J. Gregory Fitz, M.D., UT Southwestern Medical Center; Terence R. Flotte, M.D., University of Massachusetts; Robert N. Golden, M.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison; Lee Goldman, M.D., Columbia University; J. Larry Jameson, M.D., Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania; Vivian S. Lee, M.B.A., M.D., Ph.D., University of Utah; Kenneth S. Polonsky, M.D., University of Chicago; Marsha D. Rappley, M.D., Michigan State University; E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., University of Maryland; Paul B. Rothman, M.D., Johns Hopkins; Debra A. Schwinn, M.D., University of Iowa; and Larry J. Shapiro, M.D., Washington University. Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., associate senior vice chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh, also signed the letter.