The nation’s position as the global leader in health sciences output has been solidified by significant government and industry investment.

The first index to track output in prestigious medical journals, the Nature Index Annual Tables 2023, shows that the United States dominates international health-sciences publishing.

The nation’s position as the global leader in health sciences output has been solidified by significant government and industry investment. In terms of output in the natural sciences, China, its nearest rival, surpassed the United States in 2022.

The Share metric, which measures the percentage of authors from a region or institution in each paper published in a year in journals tracked by the Nature Index 2023, is used in the Annual Tables to rank countries, territories, and institutions.

64 medical journals are represented in the Nature Index Annual Tables 2023, this year, adding 9,200 articles for 2022. This makes it possible to track publication output for the four natural science categories of physical, chemistry, earth and environmental, and biological sciences as well as the health sciences.

The US Share was 5,352 in this first ranking of countries by output in the health sciences, far above China’s 1,287 and the UK’s 963 (see “Leagues apart”). China has a share of 19,373 in the natural sciences, while the United States is second with 17,610.

Federal spending in the US places a significant emphasis on health-science research, with funding for health-related research and development almost matching that of defense-related research.

With a budget increase to $51.1 billion in 2024, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) committed about $42 billion to health and medical research in 2022. With an estimated $83 billion spent on research and development in 2019, the pharmaceutical industry also makes significant investments.

According to Jonathan Adams, chief scientist at the Institute for Scientific Information in London, funding for health research is a vote-winner. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) receives more funding for national research than other government departments and agencies, according to a report released in April.

Now, the NIH receives nearly half of the US government’s budget for civilian R&D. Politicians frequently bring up funding for medical research while running for office, with the US far outspending its rivals in this area.

With nearly one-quarter of its 406 Nobel prizes going to physiology or medicine, the US has a long history of success and investment in the medical sciences. Coherent justifications for additional investment lead to increased support for individuals with Nobel Prize-winning expertise and internationally renowned facilities.

Given the growth of China and India’s research economies, the US’s dominance in the health sciences may be threatened. With a share of 358 in the health-science category, the Netherlands, which has a population of 18 million, comes in eighth place overall, ahead of Japan and Italy. Future growth of the Chinese research economy is anticipated.

Dutch medical research and development spending has increased significantly, from €67 million in 2019 to €235 million in 2020. The country ranks fourth globally in patent applications for medical technology, sixth in biotechnology, and eighth in pharmaceuticals.

The University of Toronto in Canada is the only exception, coming in third place behind the National Institutes of Health and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the 2023 Annual Tables for health sciences. At the institutional level, the United States dominates, taking eight of the top ten spots (see “Show of strength”).

With 15 research hospitals taking part in the Toronto Academic Health Science Network, the University of Toronto places a strong emphasis on collaboration. To create and test treatments, this network brings together researchers and clinicians.

This year, scientists and medical professionals from the Hospital for Sick Children collaborated to investigate the use of magnetically guided robotic nanoscalpels to target glioblastoma cancer cells. Considering the University’s history in stem cell research, collaboration in regenerative medicine also benefits it.

The university is dedicated to addressing big issues, bringing together researchers from various fields to address issues like heart failure, personalised medicine, ageing, and the role of mitochondria in human health.

Modern fundamental research, clinical research, knowledge translation, clinical trials, drug discovery, and bioinnovation are all activities they take part in. The university supports students who are interested in entrepreneurship and exploring business opportunities.

Toronto has received government grants from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund totaling $200 million for its Acceleration Consortium, which focuses on the use of robotics and artificial intelligence in drug discovery and material design. Funding for health-related research in Canada, however, is less promising than in the US because it has not kept pace with inflation.

According to Cowen, there is a lot of advocacy for increasing Canadian funding for health science research. We’re really punching above our weight despite our limited resources, she claims. “More investment would result in extraordinary additional reward because we are making an exceptional impact.”