Just as L.A.-area institutions are working to create a thriving biosciences sector in the region, the proposal to slash 20 percent from the National Institutes of Health budget threatens this very effort – and the entire state’s economy.

Not only will it slow medical advancement in treating and preventing many of the world’s deadliest diseases, it will undercut one of the most promising sectors of the region’s economy and one of the most dynamic ones in California’s economy.

Los Angeles County universities already produce nearly twice as many graduates in bioscience-related fields each year than the Bay Area. But those graduates tend to leave Los Angeles to find employment in other cities with bioscience clusters. L.A.’s bioscience industry is scattered throughout the region, and it falls far short of San Diego and San Francisco in business development, essential early stage funding, and lab space.

Under county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ leadership, the Board of Supervisors is moving forward with a plan to encourage these promising graduates to stay here by developing incubators and wet lab space. As part of this effort, the board recently approved $3 million to help pay for the creation of a biosciences incubator on our campus next to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Much of what we do is funded by NIH grants, and the creation of an incubator at L.A. BioMed will build on our record of supporting new companies by providing technical support and business services to help researchers bring promising new discoveries to the patients who need them.

Economic fallout

But the proposed reduction in NIH funding threatens to stop or slow down the development of such innovations and to harm both the region’s and state’s economy. NIH research grants and small-business and technology transfer grants enable discoveries to be made and startups to flourish.

The proposed cuts would devastate progress in both areas by slowing – or eliminating the possibility of – discoveries that can be turned into viable commercial entities that can bring needed diagnostics, therapies, and devices to patients.

Slashing NIH funding would stall the rapidly growing biosciences industry in California, where employment in life sciences has increased faster than other major biotech states, including New York and New Jersey. It has surpassed other major industries in California, including aerospace, telecommunications, and data processing, and employs more than 270,000 with average annual wages topping $100,000.

Our state has 2,600 biotech companies, plus major university and independent biotechnology centers.

There used to be a long-standing argument in setting federal spending priorities: Guns or butter? What we are facing today is a question of weapons or health. The idea of financing increased defense spending by reducing investment in vital health care research is mind-boggling. Certainly, we need to have strong defenses against America’s enemies. But we also need strong defenses against diseases that kill more souls than any war.

Cutting funding for NIH and other life-sciences research is bad for business and public health. We urge the Trump administration and Congress to continue to fund the NIH at current or even higher levels to give researchers the tools they need to protect our nation’s health.

David I. Meyer, PhD, is chief executive of L.A. BioMed, an independent nonprofit research institution.

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