Moneybench: The economic impact of cancer research

Moneybench: The economic impact of cancer research

August 12, 2016
By Matt Windsor
With a 14:1 return on investment, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center has a significant financial impact statewide, explains director Ed Partridge.

Research gives doctors new weapons in the fight against cancer, and moves them down the road to the ultimate goal: a cure. But along the way, it also has another benefit, says Edward Partridge, M.D., director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Our research enterprise at UAB, and at the Comprehensive Cancer Center in particular, is a major economic driver for Alabama,” Partridge said.

The Cancer Center counts around $10 million in base funding each year, spread among its “core grant” from the National Cancer Institute, philanthropy, and state and institutional funding. It leverages those funds to bring in an additional $140 million in annual grants and contracts – a 14-to–1 return on investment annually, Partridge points out. That money pays the salaries not only of the researchers and their staffs, but also reaches out to the community, he says.

mix ccc economic impact

There are 40 different labs in the Wallace Tumor Institute alone, and every one “is really a small business,” Partridge said. The principal investigator is the CEO, the postdocs and the lab tech are the staff, and “UAB is the serial angel investor,” he explained, using the term for a person who provides startup capital for a new business.

The NCI core grant “funds the shared facilities and administration that sets the research strategy,” Partridge explains. “Then with philanthropic dollars we recruit new investigators and invest in new science. When you attract high-caliber faculty and researchers, the impact trickles down to the community. Our recruits buy homes and settle their families here; but they also support the scientific workforce, for example, by hiring supply and equipment vendors, contractors and laborers for the construction and renovation of laboratory facilities, as well as administrators and managers who support the research infrastructure.”

The average budget for UAB’s cancer research labs is about $1.5 million per year, much of which reaches the surrounding community, Partridge said. In addition to salaries, researchers constantly purchase supplies and equipment, much of which goes to local firms. In the same way that the Honda and Mercedes plants in Alabama have brought in a host of satellite businesses to serve their needs, UAB’s research engine powers many ancillary companies, Partridge notes. “It truly is a catalyst for economic growth.”

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