Few attempts have been made to systematically evaluate whether government investment in medical research has worthwhile returns in terms of gains for public health.
S. Claiborne Johnston (University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA) and colleagues estimated the costs and benefits to society of all randomised phase III clinical trials funded by the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke before Jan 1, 2000. 28 trials met the criteria. The total cost of these trials was US$ 335 million. The investigators assessed improvements in health and savings that resulted from the trials by reviewing publications on use, cost to society, and health effects for each intervention studied. This information was available for 8 of the 28 trials. The researchers projected the effect of the trials at 10 years and found that they led to a benefit of 470 339 quality-adjusted years (a unit equivalent to an additional year of healthy life) at a total cost of US$ 3.6 billion. The team concluded that the benefits of the research programme to society far outweighed the costs, with an overall projected net benefit of over US$15 billion at 10 years.
Dr Johnston states: "For this institute, the public return on investment in clinical trials has been substantial. Although results led to increases in health-care expenditures, health gains were large and valuable."
See also accompanying Comment by John Davidson and Colin Blakemore from the UK's Medical Research Council.
Contact: Carol Hyman Media Relations, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA. T) 415-476-2557 email@example.com