3 R&D Fields That Will Evolve In 2017

Innovation is one of the key elements that makes the US a global leader in multiple sectors, but is it going to change this year?


2017 is expected to be a year of change for many industries, for many reasons. The surprising outcome of the US elections, the growing innovative potential of the US, and external factors, such as Brexit, signal that in order to retain leading positions, both the government and businesses must work together to ensure innovation thrives. One of the key indicators of the healthy environment is strong and effective R&D initiatives.

Published by the Obama administration, the 2017 FY budget report revealed the government's plan to spend $73 billion on basic and applied research, and development of new innovations this year. Traditionally, the largest chunk of investment goes on defense, with $14.6 billion being assigned to the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, laboratories of the Department of Commerce (DOC), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). However, with the new president-elect and constantly changing market conditions, some R&D areas may undergo more change than others. Here are 3 fields that are likely to be affected:

Clean Energy

'Now we've got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future.' - Barack Obama, January 12, 2016

The UN's multinational Mission Innovation which was launched in Paris in 2015, is hoped to fund climate control and clean energy initiatives, as well as set an example for the commercial sector that sustainability is the future and it's worth the investment. Over the last couple of years, there has been a significant boost in the development of sustainable transport, corporate spaces, and the usage of the wind and solar sources of energy, with more companies recognizing the commercial potential and the environmental impact. With the new president-elect, however, the trend may be affected as Mr Trump often refers to climate change as a 'hoax' and has promised to cancel the Paris deal.

Today, some of the politicians and environmental advocates fear that many of the sustainable initiatives will fall under preemption - the concept under which the federal or state governments can restrict or ban activities that have been practiced by local authorities. For example, if San Francisco's authorities were to push for more green buildings or progressive recycling, they could be prohibited under preemption. The same is feared on a larger scale, where future R&D expenditure in sustainability may drop, and instead of focusing on clean energy, there may be more support for the fossil fuel industry.

Healthcare and Pharma


The industry is not in a good state – the pharmaceutical industry reached its lowest return on investments in 6 years in 2016, which came in at only 3.7%, according to Deloitte. Productivity levels and sales have stagnated, and according to the same source's predictions, good ROI on R&D shouldn't be expected anytime soon as political and pricing pressure will be affecting the industry. According to Statista, the global spend on R&D in pharmaceuticals will be $159 billion, with hopes for more blockbusters, which is a $5 billion increase from last year. Oncology remains the top area for both research and development.


In healthcare, the future is shaped around big data in almost every sector. Increasing amounts of generated data and questions about its storage, management, and value for innovation are likely to get a lot of attention. By 2020, Deloitte predicts that R&D initiatives and departments will expand their boundaries, suggesting the appearance of a new collaborative model, where both pharma and healthcare may be opting out from the 'in-house' data solutions, and instead share more between organizations. The model is set to improve understanding of diseases and decrease costs for healthcare providers. With current price hikes of life-saving drugs and treatments, this may result in a big step forward.


Revolution is coming in transport. Both the government and businesses have discovered nearly limitless commercial and infrastructural opportunities from the IoT and AI. Over the last few years, smart and connected transport achieved some significant breakthroughs, with driverless vehicles gaining interest amongst both the public and marketplaces. Thanks to the IoT and Industry 4.0, transport manufacturing will also become more efficient and cheaper. As for societal and business impact, the US Department of Transportation issued their first guidance on autonomous vehicles, demonstrating a growing national interest in the development of the new technology.

As car manufacturers and tech giants are already working hard on gaining 'autonomous miles' to accelerate a driverless future, the R&D is likely to move towards building the infrastructure that will surround transport innovation.

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