Despite the economic slowdown, the USA’s pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies invested a record $65.2 billion last year in R&D, an increase of $2 billion from 2007.

The rise has been revealed by analyses from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and Burrill & Co. PhRMA-member companies alone spent an estimated $50.3 billion on R&D last year, up 5%.

PhRMA also mentioned a new study conducted by Archstone Consulting which found that domestic R&D spending by biopharmaceutical companies equalled roughly $65,000 per direct employee in 2006 - about eight times the estimates in all manufacturing industries between 2000 and 2004. The latter analysis noted that biopharma’s contribution to gross domestic product in the USA was $88.5 billion, triple the average from sectors in the rest of the economy in 2006.

Billy Tauzin, PhRMA chief executive, said that "America's pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies are not immune to the challenges presented by our current economic crisis. However, the important work that we do every day in the battle with disease cannot stop”. He added that the USA is still “the world's hotbed of medical innovation…despite the incredible challenges that are posed by the current economy”.

There are currently more than 2,900 medicines in development in the USA, including 750 compounds in development for cancer, 312 for heart disease and stroke, 150 for diabetes, 109 for HIV/AIDS and 91 for Alzheimer's disease and dementia, PhRMA noted.

Perhaps alluding to the sweeping changes that the Obama Administration is planning, notably through the promotion of biogenerics, Mr Tauzin said that "as we look toward the future of healthcare in America, we must remember that the incredible progress we make every day in R&D will be wasted if patients don't have access to our life-saving medicines".