A goal within the ACR’s strategic plan is to increase the number of members receiving research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Defense and other federal agencies. More research will lead to improved healthcare outcomes for patients with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. The goal is to increase funding for rheumatology research by 10% within the next four to five years, according to Rheumatology Research Foundation (Foundation) President S. Louis Bridges Jr., MD, PhD, director of the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
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Data on federal funding show that ACR/ARP members received only 1.3% of the estimated $160 billion in funds awarded for research between 2013 and 2017.The Foundation hopes such data, which are included in its recent report on federal and private rheumatology funding, will lead to increased research support for College members.1 The report includes data from the NIH’s Research, Condition and Disease Categorization system and the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool. Eight private foundations also provided information on their research funding over the same time period.
“This report has helped establish the baseline of funding,” Dr. Bridges says. “Data from this report will help the leadership of the ACR and the Foundation better articulate the knowledge gaps in existing rheumatology research funding to particular NIH institutes, such as NIAMS and NIAID.”
Quantifying Rheumatic Disease Research Funding
To view rheumatic disease funding in as many ways as possible, federal funding data were compared with the ACR/ARP membership database, says Eryn Marchiolo, MPH, senior director of research and training at the Foundation.
She highlights several of the report’s key findings:
- The cumulative amount of federal funding dollars, including total project and subproject costs, awarded for the period of 2013–2017 was estimated to be $159 billion. Of this amount, about $2 billion was awarded to ACR members. Research funding going to the rheumatology community over the five-year time period represents only 1.3% of total research funding awarded during that time;
- The total number of federal grants awarded from 2013–2017 was 351,440. Of these grants, 4,317 (1.23%) were awarded to ACR/ARP members; and
- The total federal and private foundation collective impact on the rheumatology community from 2013–2017 was 5,611 grants awarded in the amount of $2.2 billion.
This report provides a snapshot of the effect private and federal agencies had on rheumatology research during a defined period. Ms. Marchiolo says, “Having the ability to collect this information and monitor it over time gives us a unique advantage to observe funding trends and diffusion of support for rheumatic disease training and research across all agencies.”
Information contained in this report is intended to help educate the academic rheumatology community on which organizations are currently providing support for rheumatic disease research, she explains. The report’s data will be used to identify the top NIH institutes and centers funding the rheumatology community in efforts to “inform an overall communications plan between the College and NIH,” she says.
Funding for COVID-19 Research
As the healthcare community focuses on understanding COVID-19, Dr. Bridges hopes rheumatology researchers can play a role in advancing this knowledge.
“Many of the drugs we use to treat our rheumatic disease patients may affect the outcomes of patients with COVID-19. Rheumatology health professionals should be at the forefront of research in this area, as well as investigating the effects of the pandemic on the care of our patients,” he says.
Therefore, the Foundation recently released a Notice of Special Interest, highlighting the availability of funds for projects exploring the relationships between rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases and SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
“These funds complement, but do not replace, the Foundation’s annual programs,” Dr. Bridges says. Given the urgency to acquire new knowledge about COVID-19 in patients with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases, applicants submitting research projects with this focus were able to request an expedited start date.
Carina Stanton is a freelance science journalist based in Denver.
- Rheumatology Research Foundation. Analysis of funding for rheumatology research and training for the period 2013–2017. 2019 Oct.