The Ministry of Health and Welfare gives a general name of "health science" to cover the scientific technology related to the health and medical care, welfare, sanitary, etc. for people. It is one of the essential functions of the Ministry of Health and Welfare to take actions toward protecting the lives and health of people through the promotion of health sciences.
For this purpose, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has been carrying out various researches on health sciences through the utilization of Health Science Research Grants and studies by national institutions. Such researches include infectious disease controls, the development of drugs, the elucidation of chemical substances, the finding of the cause of and the development of treatment for intractable diseases, the studies on welfare programs, and so on.
In 1999, the elucidation of human genome (the macrocosm of human gene information) functions is planned to promote the elucidation of diseases and the development of treatments and new drugs for such diseases. In addition, a comprehensive research covering the areas of food, waste, drinking water, etc. as for the chemical substances such as dioxins and endocrine disrupters that may endanger the lives of people.
(1) Health Science Research Grants
Health Science Research Grants is offered to researchers who conduct researches that may be considered to contribute to the enhancement of health sciences. Applicants are publicly gathered through official gazzetes and the Web pages, and they are selected based on evaluations made by the evaluating committee.
(2) Researches at National Institutions
National test and research institutions under the Ministry of Health and Welfare are in charge of researches, in cooperation with local health laboratories and foreign laboratories, for protecting the lives and health of people from a wide range of viewpoints. Such researches include studies on social security and population issues, the grasping of how diseases occur and studies on the prevention of diseases, the development of treatments and new drugs, the grasping of the nutritional and health statuses of people, and studies on how to improve health.
Figure 7-1-1. Changes in the Amount of Health Science Research Grants
2. Promotion of Research and Development of Drugs
One of the essential issues to be addressed by the welfare administration is the promotion of the research and development of efficient drugs and medical equipment. For this purpose, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has so far been making efforts in the improvement of systems for financing and loaning via the Organization for Pharmaceutical Safety and Research (OPSR) as well as the promotion of public-private cooperative researches at the Japan Health Science Foundation and the Japan Association for the Advancement of Medical Equipment.
The Ministry has been introducing since 1993 a research and development promotion system for orphan drugs and medical devices. The system deals with the subsidizing of research and development expenses by the OPSR, and the preferential registration of the drugs and medical equipment that satisfy such conditions as having less than 50,000 patients (so-called orphan drugs and orphan medical devices).
Furthermore, based on the basic scientific technology plan resolved by a cabinet meeting in 1996, the Ministry established in the same year a basic research promotion project in the field of health science lead by the OPSR. It has been intended to promote basic researches such as the development of drugs and medical equipment that are expected to bring about achievements in the field of health science. The project has been launched so that the OPSR can perform cooperative researches with national laboratories and college-commissioned researches on the scale of about \100,000,000 per subject of research. In 1998, applications were requested from public in the two areas of the structural biology and the cell engineering and four research subjects were adopted.
In addition to the above, it was decided in 1997 that the Government directly request applications from public to promote the research and development of efficient medical equipment. The plan was intended to promote the research and development of the latest and epoch-making medical technology such as artificial internal organs through the utilization of the subsidy for health science research expenses.