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Elizabeth Warren calls for more spending on medical research

US Senator Elizabeth Warren. Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff.

Senator Elizabeth Warren on Monday called for doubling federal government funding of scientific and biomedical research and for more consistent financing of the National Institutes of Health, which have both helped fuel the state’s innovation economy.

Speaking to a forum held by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Monday, the Massachusetts Democrat said increasing investments into medical research can save lives and money. Research into drugs that delay Alzheimer’s disease and cheaper vaccines can reduce the nation’s health care costs, she said.

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The National Institutes of Health “drives economic growth in the United States,” Warren said.

That’s been particularly true in Massachusetts, where scientific research and biomedical industry are pillars of the state’s economy. The biopharmaceutical industry employs more than 53,000 people across the state, with a combined Massachusetts payroll or more than $6 billion, according to MassBio, the state’s biotechnology trade association.

The state’s hospitals and research universities are among the state’s biggest employers and the nation’s biggest recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health. Massachusetts receives more than $3 billion a year in medical research funding, more per capita than any other state.

The NIH budget doubled from $15 billion in 1998 to $30 billion in 2003, but then remained relatively flat in recent years. Now, sequestration, the across-the-board federal spending cuts that went into effect earlier this year is forcing the agency to trim its spending by 5 percent.

These reductions are the equivalent of, “cutting your feet to save money on shoes,” Warren said.

They also are eroding innovation in Massachusetts and the nation as funding cuts drive Western-trained doctors and scientists to return to countries such as China to adavance their research towards medical breakthroughs, she said.

Warren said Congress should invest in research instead of providing tax breaks to oil companies, agricultural businesses , and wealthy individuals.

Asked whether Republicans and Democrats in Congress could come together to support increased funding for the NIH after the recent government shutdown and battle over raising the nation’s debt limit, Warren said she was slightly optimistic.

Congress has to show the American public that it can make some progress, Warren said, and tackling non-partisan issues, such as research funding may be the best approach.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.
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