Return on investment is always an interesting question when it comes to medical research.  What would you call “return?”  Is it that you’ve published a certain number of papers?  Well, that is one metric I suppose and that they are in high impact journals, that’s another metric.  But really what we’re about is trying to help people. 

So the real return you’re looking for is clinical benefits, diagnostics, therapeutics, preventive measures.  The lead time on those is often measured in years.  And so it may be quite difficult to assess when you’re just looking at a program that have been underway for three or four years. How does it measure up in terms of what you’re getting for your dollars compared to some other program that similarly is sort of in an early stage of moving into clinical benefits? 

The NIH tries to do that to the extent we can and I think we should.  This is taxpayer money, the taxpayers believe in us as the place that is going to make that next breakthrough.  They want to be assured that we’re using those dollars in the most effective way possible.  Sometimes people think NIH is just playing around in the lab.  I can assure that’s not the view of people here, but we need to be prepared at any moment to defend the choices we’ve made as having had the best chance of benefiting real people out there who are counting on us to use their money wisely.  It is their money. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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