WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama announced a plan on Wednesday to spend $5 billion on medical and scientific research, medical supplies and upgrading laboratory capacity, which he said would create tens of thousands of new jobs.
The funds, to come from the $787 billion economic stimulus package, will pay for “cutting-edge medical research in every state across America,” the White House said.
One billion dollars will go to research into the genetic causes of cancer and potential targeted treatments. Obama also promised a large infusion of funds into research on autism, which affects an estimated 1 in 150 U.S. children.
“This kind of investment will also lead to new jobs: tens of thousands of jobs conducting research, manufacturing and supplying medical equipment, and building and modernizing laboratories and research facilities,” Obama said in a speech at the National Institutes of Health outside Washington.
“The more than 12,000 grant awards ... are part of an overall $100 billion Recovery Act investment in science and technology to lay the foundation for the innovation economy of the future,” the White House statement added.
Obama also promoted his signature political initiative, healthcare reform, saying that decades of research “make no difference to the family that is dropped from an insurance policy when a child gets sick.”
Obama took a swipe at former president George W. Bush, widely accused of packing scientific advisory panels with supporters of his conservative political ideology.
“If we’re honest, in recent years we’ve seen our leadership slipping as scientific integrity was at times undermined and research funding failed to keep pace,” Obama said.
“We know that the work you do would not get done if left solely to the private sector. Some research does not lend itself to quick profit,” he said.
The NIH often conducts or pays for basic scientific research, and then licenses the findings to drug or biotechnology companies to develop into products.
The awards will take the form of grants, meaning that institutions and researchers will have to apply for them.
More than $1 billion will go to genomic research — studying the DNA map to find causes of diseases, especially cancer, and potential new treatments.
“We are about to see a quantum leap in our understanding of cancer,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins.
He said cancer “occurs when glitches in the DNA cause a good cell to go bad”.
“This ambitious effort promises to open new windows into the biology of all cancers, transform approaches to cancer research and raise the curtain on a more personalized era of cancer care,” added Collins, who as head of the National Human Genome Research Institute led efforts to sequence the human genome.
Some of the most successful cancer drugs, such as Novartis AG’s Gleevec and Herceptin and Avastin, made by Genentech, now owned by Roche AG, target specific mutated genes.
The investment includes $175 million for The Cancer Genome Atlas project to collect 20,000 tissue samples from people with more than 20 different types of cancer. The plan is to sequence all the genes and make the information quickly and freely available to researchers.
Writing by Maggie Fox, editing by Alan Elsner