NIH disease funding levels and burden of disease

PLoS One. 2011 Feb 24;6(2):e16837. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016837.


Background: An analysis of NIH funding in 1996 found that the strongest predictor of funding, disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs), explained only 39% of the variance in funding. In 1998, Congress requested that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) evaluate priority-setting criteria for NIH funding; the IOM recommended greater consideration of disease burden. We examined whether the association between current burden and funding has changed since that time.

Methods: We analyzed public data on 2006 NIH funding for 29 common conditions. Measures of US disease burden in 2004 were obtained from the World Health Organization's Global Burden of Disease study and national databases. We assessed the relationship between disease burden and NIH funding dollars in univariate and multivariable log-linear models that evaluated all measures of disease burden. Sensitivity analyses examined associations with future US burden, current and future measures of world disease burden, and a newly standardized NIH accounting method.

Results: In univariate and multivariable analyses, disease-specific NIH funding levels increased with burden of disease measured in DALYs (p = 0.001), which accounted for 33% of funding level variation. No other factor predicted funding in multivariable models. Conditions receiving the most funding greater than expected based on disease burden were AIDS ($2474 M), diabetes mellitus ($390 M), and perinatal conditions ($297 M). Depression ($719 M), injuries ($691 M), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ($613 M) were the most underfunded. Results were similar using estimates of future US burden, current and future world disease burden, and alternate NIH accounting methods.

Conclusions: Current levels of NIH disease-specific research funding correlate modestly with US disease burden, and correlation has not improved in the last decade.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cost of Illness*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disease / classification*
  • Disease / economics*
  • Epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • International Classification of Diseases
  • Male
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.) / economics*
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Research / classification
  • Research / economics*
  • Research Support as Topic / economics*
  • United States / epidemiology