Pandemic of COVID-19: a lesson for biology and health research
Press release from the National Academy of Medicine
April 7, 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic occurred in the context of a steady decline over the past 10 years in the place of biology and health research in the French research system: in 2008, the amount of the R&D budget allocated by the State to this sector was €3.18 billion (in constant 2019 €) (Fig.1); and it declined by nearly 25% between 2008 and 2019. The share devoted to research in biology and health, already low, has fallen over the last three years to reach less than 18% in 2019 (Fig.2).
Fig.1 Evolution of the biology-health budget since 2006 (MIRES data, in constant € 2019)
Fig.2 Share of the biology-health budget since 2006 (MIRES data, in % 2019)
This contrasts with the situation in several surrounding countries which devote 35 to 40% of their research budget, and up to 50% in the United Kingdom, to research in biology and health. It also takes place in a context of research funding that is lower in France (2.19% of GDP) than in neighbouring countries, particularly Germany (3.02% of a GDP that is already 30% higher than that of France). In this context, the National Academy of Medicine notes the decision of the President of the Republic to allocate €58 million to the emergency fund for research on COVID-19, and the announcement of a gradual increase in the research budget to reach €5 billion in 10 years’ time. However, this announced increase raises the problem of the share that will be reserved for research in biology and health, particularly in the framework of the law on Multiannual Research Programming. Indeed, a lack of recognition of the specificity of biology and health research would run the risk of reaching a point of no return in the Nation’s capacity to respond to other upcoming health crises. Consequently, the National Academy of Medicine recommends:
– that the specific nature of research in biology and health be better recognized in the budget, particularly within the framework of the Multiannual Research Programming Law, by increasing its resources by at least 12% per year in constant €, in addition to the additional €1 billion per year announced for research on the major challenges of global health and life science, with the objective of gradually reaching the level of the surrounding countries, at least 40% of research spending;
– that this budgetary effort be accompanied by a strengthened coordination of research institutions and a strategy that guarantees support for basic, non-targeted research as well as translational and clinical research;
– that this financial, coordination and anticipation effort be targeted as a priority to prepare for large-scale health threats, such as emerging viral epidemics or chronic non-communicable diseases for which no funding was in the past reserved, even though they have the greatest impact on mortality in our country: diabetes, obesity, cancer, inflammatory, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, etc.