WashU Medicine rises to No. 2 in nation in NIH research funding

Ranking reflects success as thriving hub of scientific excellence, medical innovation

Researcher working in lab
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis received in 2023 the second highest amount of funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of all medical schools nationwide. This ranking reflects the school’s commitment to cutting-edge research and positions it as a key player in shaping the future of medicine. (Photo: Matt Miller/School of Medicine)

In the realm of biomedical research, securing funding is a testament to an institution’s record of scientific accomplishments and potential for further advances to improve human health. In 2023, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis received the second-highest amount of funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of all medical schools nationwide. This ranking, the highest in two decades, reflects the school’s commitment to cutting-edge research and positions it as a key player in shaping the future of medicine.

“Our success is built on a vision: one team with complementary skills — researchers, clinicians, educators and staff — working together to advance medical knowledge, improve health care, and promote the health and well-being of the people in our local and regional communities, and around the world,” said David H. Perlmutter, MD, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of Washington University School of Medicine, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor. “In this shared pursuit, research is the key that unlocks the doors to a healthier, more equitable world for all. A collaborative spirit and unity of purpose fuels the progress that we have made and continue to make toward that goal.”

(Graphic: Sara Moser/School of Medicine)

When he became dean of the School of Medicine in 2016, Perlmutter launched a strategic initiative to expand the school’s research infrastructure and programs, with a goal of increasing NIH funding to the second-highest level in the country. That target was reached last year when School of Medicine researchers received awards totaling $583.6 million from the NIH. This represents a growth in total funding of more than $200 million since 2016, the largest increase among the top five U.S. medical schools. Over that same period, the number of NIH-funded investigators at the School of Medicine has risen from 494 to 684, and the average amount of funding per investigator grew 12.7%, from $757,000 to $853,000.

A strong base of NIH funding not only enables School of Medicine scientists to conduct the groundbreaking research that will lead to better health for all, it also attracts top-tier faculty and students who elevate the caliber of the academic community and promote an environment of innovation and excellence. In addition, NIH funding stimulates local and regional economies by creating jobs, supporting local businesses, and fostering a culture of scientific innovation that attracts further investment. Every $1 million in research funding creates 11 local jobs, drawing people to St. Louis and to Washington University.

The School of Medicine is home to more than 1,000 NIH-funded projects and programs. Among the grants newly funded in 2023 are $7 million to investigate the effects of opioid use during pregnancy on fetal development, $11 million to study Alzheimer’s disease in people with Down syndrome, and $5 million to develop better drugs for river blindness, a tropical disease common in Africa caused by parasitic worms. In particular, 31 WashU investigators were awarded their first R01 grants in 2023, a milestone accomplishment. The grants provide three to five years of support for investigator-initiated projects with a high degree of novelty and creativity, clear relevance to public health and solid preliminary data. R01 grants are extremely competitive — only about 10% of applications are funded — and receiving one is a major professional achievement.

(Graphic: Sara Moser/School of Medicine)

Innovative research is the foundation of medical progress, but by itself is not enough to change medical care and enhance health. Discoveries must be translated into novel therapies, diagnostics and technologies, and then commercialized so health-care providers and patients can access the latest advances in care. Commercialization not only ensures that scientific discoveries reach the public but also fosters the creation of new startups and job opportunities. Nurturing a culture of innovation and supporting the transition from lab to market not only accelerates the pace of scientific progress but propels the growth of local economies, creating a ripple effect of positive impact.

Washington University has taken steps to strengthen its drug development and commercialization pipeline. The university formed a research collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Eisai Co. Ltd., headquartered in Japan, to develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions, for the benefit of patients worldwide. A generous $15 million commitment from Philip and Sima Needleman, longtime benefactors of Washington University, enabled the establishment of the Needleman Program for Innovation and Commercialization. The program aims to bridge the gap between the identification of promising therapeutic targets in the laboratory and the initiation of clinical trials to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of investigational drugs. And earlier this year, Washington University and Deerfield Management, a health-care investment firm, announced the launch of VeritaScience, a new, private R&D collaboration designed to advance the discovery, clinical development and commercialization of promising therapeutic and diagnostic candidates with potential to benefit human health.

(Graphic: Sara Moser/School of Medicine)

The boom in research and commercialization efforts is just one part of the School of Medicine’s impressive growth over the last few years. Since 2016, the school has added nearly 759 new faculty members. With the opening of the Jeffrey T. Fort Neuroscience Research Building and the expansion of the Steven & Susan Lipstein BJC Institute of Health, research space has increased 40%. Clinical space also is expanding. The nine-story outpatient Ambulatory Cancer Center — devoted exclusively to outpatient cancer care — is slated to open later this year.

“Our success is built on a set of core values,” Perlmutter said. “High standards of excellence. Reverence for the scientific basis of medicine. Effective and stable strategies for financial support of research. A commitment to inspiring and nurturing talent, and a culture of community and diversity. The paramount importance of delivering the best possible clinical care for each of our communities, including our long-standing role as a safety net provider for urban and rural areas, is another of the values that drive Washington University School of Medicine and continue to sustain us amid our ongoing efforts to build a healthy and equitable world.”

About Washington University School of Medicine

WashU Medicine is a global leader in academic medicine, including biomedical research, patient care and educational programs with 2,900 faculty. Its National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding portfolio is the second largest among U.S. medical schools and has grown 56% in the last seven years. Together with institutional investment, WashU Medicine commits well over $1 billion annually to basic and clinical research innovation and training. Its faculty practice is consistently within the top five in the country, with more than 1,900 faculty physicians practicing at 130 locations and who are also the medical staffs of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals of BJC HealthCare. WashU Medicine has a storied history in MD/PhD training, recently dedicated $100 million to scholarships and curriculum renewal for its medical students, and is home to top-notch training programs in every medical subspecialty as well as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and audiology and communications sciences.

Originally published on the School of Medicine website