Which Diseases Get Big Money?

CrohnoResMoneyHave you ever wondered how Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis research is funded? Or how that compares to other diseases? You might be surprised to learn research on inflammatory bowel disease is better funded than cancer — at least in the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH is the US government’s main source of medical research funding. Now they have released a report comparing spending on various diseases to the burden of those disease. Measuring burden of disease is tricky: deaths is one way, but it doesn’t count the people who are disabled by an illness. A better measure is ‘disability adjusted life year’ — “the number of healthy years of life lost due to morbidity or premature mortality caused by disease”. The NIH website has cool graphs plotting disease funding against burden of disease, and it’s interesting to see where the diseases fall on the graph. But the data are not quite as easy to understand as they could be….

To make the numbers easier to understand, I took the raw data and added up all the research money and all the DALYs (globally*), then divided: the result was $11 — that is, eleven dollars per DALY. This is the average amount the NIH spends across the board. From that number, we can ask: which diseases get more than $11 per DALY, and which get less. In the table below, I sort the data from highest rate to lowest. (Click on the image to get a larger version.)

Inflammatory Bowel Disease gets funded at $106 million dollars per year, which works out to $37 per DALY — well above the $11 average, and slightly above Cancer at $31 per DALY, but not nearly as much as Breast Cancer at $64 per DALY or Prostate Cancer at $87 per DALY. Keep in mind that this does not include private funding (the CCFA spends about $15 million on IBD research, and pharma companies might spend billions).

This look at the data shows some surprising results: Hepatitis C is highly funded at $194 per DALY, while Hepatitis A is at the bottom with $1 per DALY. Migraines, Headaches, and Suicide are also at the bottom of the list. There are also lots of diseases missing, like Lupus and ALS, and it’s not clear where they fall in these categories.

Because NIH funding is determined by Congress, one of the things this chart tells you is which diseases have the best lobbyists. Multiple Sclerosis, Breast Cancer, Autism, and Alzheimer’s all have powerful organizations; Suicide and Migraines, less so. Some of the diseases are relatively low priority because they do not affect many Americans: malaria, for example. Others like Infertility and Autism are more typical ‘first world problems’.

In any case, people with IBD can rest assured they are getting a relatively large share of NIH research money. When the 21st Century Cures bill passes, it will give NIH a huge increase in funding — meaning every disease should get more money.

*The DALY numbers are from global burden of disease, rather than just the US, because the NIH’s mission includes diseases that affect more than just American citizens. For example, malaria is uncommon among Americans, and so it appears well over-funded compared to US DALY. But based on global DALY — malaria is a huge problem world-wide — funding for malaria is relatively low.

Photo from Flickr user Pictures of Money by CC commercial-modification license.

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