NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Do firms underinvest in long-term research? Evidence from cancer clinical trials

Eric Budish, Benjamin N. Roin, Heidi Williams

NBER Working Paper No. 19430
Issued in September 2013
NBER Program(s):   AG   HC   IO   LE   PE   PR

We investigate whether private research investments are distorted away from long-term projects. Our theoretical model highlights two potential sources of this distortion: short-termism and the fixed patent term. Our empirical context is cancer research, where clinical trials – and hence, project durations – are shorter for late-stage cancer treatments relative to early-stage treatments or cancer prevention. Using newly constructed data, we document several sources of evidence that together show private research investments are distorted away from long-term projects. The value of life-years at stake appears large. We analyze three potential policy responses: surrogate (non-mortality) clinicaltrial endpoints, targeted R&D subsidies, and patent design.

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This paper was revised on February 9, 2015

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19430

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