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New study of NIH funding allocations suggests potential efficiency gains
Date:5/3/2012

Researchers suggest that application of Nobel-prize-winning portfolio theory could provide objective funding allocations that would improve risk/reward trade-off in years of life lost.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is one of the largest investors in biomedical researchspending approximately $30 billion dollars annuallyand must constantly evaluate how to spend those dollars in a way that adequately reflects multiple factors including disease burden.

New research from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has responded to this challenge by applying financial portfolio theory to NIH funding allocation decisions. Widely used in the financial industry, portfolio theory offers an objective, systematic, and reproducible framework in which the risk/reward trade-off of funding allocations can be optimized with respect to quantitative measures of burden of disease such as "years of life lost" (YLL). These findings are published in the May 2, 2012 issue of PLoS ONE.

"Deciding which research programs should be funded and to what degree is very similar to managing an investment portfolio," said the study's co-authors, Dimitrios Bisias of the MIT Operations Research Center, Dr. Andrew W. Lo of the MIT Sloan School's Laboratory for Financial Engineering and the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and Dr. James Watkins, a surgeon in the Trauma, Burn and Critical Care Division at BWH. "In both cases, there are competing choices for investment and limited resources to invest, forcing trade-offs. The expected returns, risks, value of serendipity, and the cost of lost opportunities are also important factors."

Using NIH funding allocation data for seven broad disease groups between 1965 and 2005, and subsequent YLL changes within those disease groups between 1979 and 2007, the three researchers estimated the "efficient frontier," a statistical construc
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Contact: Lori J. Shanks
ljshanks@partners.org
617-534-1604
Brigham and Women's Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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