Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Economic crisis could stunt scientific research

Citizen Staff Writer



The continuing economic crisis could see the development of lifesaving drugs and therapies delayed.

Biotech researchers, already stung by funding cutbacks, fear the $700 billion bailout will further crimp their efforts to bring new drugs to market.

While it is too early to gauge exactly what the most recent financial upheavals will mean, researchers say they are already hurting.

“The bulk of research dollars at the University of Arizona come from the federal government,” said Vicki Chandler, director of UA’s BIO5 Institute. “I think we’re in for a slowing of research.”

Federal budget problems, fueled by the bailout, hurricane relief and the war in Iraq, mean less money for bioscience efforts, Chandler said.

The timing is poor.

“We’ve collected massive amounts of data were poised to really take advantage of,” she said. “To do that, it takes money, people and facilities.”

Local researchers are struggling, she said.

Three to four years ago, 20 percent to 25 percent of biotech grant requests made to the National Institutes of Health were funded. That has dropped to a funding success rate between 8 and 10 percent, Chandler said.

The National Science Foundation, another leading federal provider of science research funding, has seen a similar decline, she said.

“That’s already hit UA in a big way,” said Elaine Jacobson, UA professor of pharmacology and co-founder of Niadyne Inc., which develops and markets niacin-based products and therapeutics.

Some researchers have not received funding approval and have reduced their staffs and scientific efforts, she said.

The $700 billion bailout, which some analysts believe will cost closer to $2 trillion, will make things worse for researchers working to bring drugs to market.

“You just can’t create grant money out of thin air, and there is a cash shortage,” Jacobson said. “That’s really going to hurt.”

Niadyne next week will begin seeking private funding to move new therapeutics toward federal approval for use by humans.

A year ago, it would have been much easier to secure funding, Jacobson said. But with the Dow Jones industrial average dropping from the 12,000s to the 9,000s since then, all bets are off.

Venture funds will do fewer investments and reserve more cash per investment for capital-intensive biotech projects, said Shaun A. Kirkpatrick, president and CEO of Research Corporation Technologies, a Tucson-based venture capital operation.

He sees a decrease in funding available for life sciences projects, and believes small funds may leave the biotech arena because of the large amount of money needed.

On the bright side, investors hammered by the stock market may see biotech firms as good opportunities and invest, Chandler said.

And foreign investors may be drawn to biotech because of the weakness of the dollar, she said.

Drug development takes many years, and a pipeline of near-ready new products exists for the short term, she said.

But if the economic problems continue for a long time, that pipeline could be reduced to a trickle.

Our Digital Archive

This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

There are more than 230,000 articles in this archive.

In TucsonCitizen.com Morgue, Part 1, we have preserved the Tucson Citizen newspaper's web archive from 2006 to 2009. To view those stories (all of which are duplicated here) go to Morgue Part 1

Search site | Terms of service