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Will biomedicine outgrow support?

The number of scientists in the biomedical field is growing exponentially at rates that outstrip funding. The present system of short-term research grants, resulting in armies of postdocs without career prospects, must be changed.

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Figure 1: Semilogarithmic plot of membership of some American societies during this century.
Figure 2: Number of scientists at work at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, with branches in Hamburg, Grenoble and Cambridge; the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island (CSHL), New York, and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge.
Figure 3: Costs per scientist and per bench worker (scientists and technical staff) employed by the UK MRC.
Figure 4: Government expenditure on medical research in the United States, Britain and Germany from 1950.
Figure 5: Growth in numbers of NIH grant awardees and of the scientific staff of the MRC and the MPG.


  1. * Ernst & Young, Inc. 12th Biotechnology Industry Annual Report: New Directions 1998 and European Life Sciences 1998: Continental Shift. 5th Industry Annual Report.


I thank the following people for statistical data on the various organizations: David Smith, MRC; Hubert Markl, Max-Planck Gesellschaft; Harold Varmus, NIH; Rose Grimm, FASEB; T. D. Inch, Royal Society of Chemistry; Philip Diamond, Institute of Physics; M. Bowen, American Chemical Society; Roman Czujko, American Institute of Physics; James Watson, CSHL; Mary Holmes, EMBL; Heinrich von Diek, Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker; and Heinz Metzger, Gesellschaft für Biochemie und Molekularbiologie. I thank S. Solomou for advice on economics.

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Perutz, M. Will biomedicine outgrow support?. Nature 399, 299–301 (1999).

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