Rodricks finds the wrong villain in Ebola research debate

The argument that the sequester has anything to do with the CDC's lack of a vaccine for Ebola is absurd.

Dan Rodricks is, as the saying goes, entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts. In "Vigilance for viruses comes at a cost" (Oct. 19), Mr. Rodricks recites one scientist's complaint (in a Huffington Post interview) that research support from the NIH was on a "10-year slide."

This is not true. As the Tampa Bay Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact pointed out on Oct. 17, the NIH budget grew 9 percent, from $28 billion in 2004 to $30.5 billion in 2009, with the portion funding research on infectious diseases following a similar trend. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, NIH's budget was trimmed to $29.3 billion by 2013 — still 5 percent higher than its level a decade ago.

NIH research grant awards grew 8 percent from 2004 to 2012, to $15.9 billion, but were cut by $1 billion in 2013 as a result of the federal budget sequester. Mr. Rodricks would like to blame this belt-tightening exclusively on Republicans and their "anti-government themes," but (as Politifact, again, points out) both parties and President Barack Obama played key roles in that legislation.

In any case, the argument that the sequester has anything to do with the CDC's lack of a vaccine or "miracle cure" for Ebola right now is absurd. Developing a new drug in the U.S. not only costs hundreds of billions of dollars, but studies have shown that taking it from concept to market commonly takes 12 years. Thanks to FDA regulatory protocols of which Mr. Rodricks is presumably fond, many drugs are available in foreign markets 5-1/2 years earlier than in the U.S., according to a Tufts University study.

In short, there are many problems regarding U.S. policy on bio-medical research, but identifying them would require Mr. Rodricks to do more fact-finding and thinking than he did in producing his most recent column.

Stephen J.K. Walters, Baltimore

The writer is professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland.

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