National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins reminded biotech executives Wednesday in Philadelphia that the big money they hope to make from drugs, medical devices, and other health care technology often starts with the taxpayers.

"NIH is the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world," Collins told a packed conference room at the BIO International 2015 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. He then cautioned them about the political and economic realities of America.

"Resources are tight - incredibly tight - but the science is extremely exciting," Collins said. "That is the paradox of our time."

Congress is debating the budget for the 2016 fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1. NIH is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

NIH funding peaked in 2010 at $31.238 billion. Since then, it declined before rising only slightly, with the low point being 2013, when the congressional stalemate called sequestration cut $1.5 billion from the NIH budget. As part of his introduction, a video clip was played of Collins playing the guitar and singing about the sequestration blues.

President Obama has requested $31.311 billion for NIH in his budget proposal.

In 2015, among states, California got the most funding ($1.52 billion)followed by Massachusetts ($1.1 billion), New York ($929.5 million), and Pennsylvania ($716.2 million). New Jersey was No. 24 ($101.7 million).

The NIH funded 501 grants this year associated with the University of Pennsylvania, totaling $210.1 million . Only Johns Hopkins University got more. The University of Pittsburgh was sixth on the list with $191.5 million. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia got $52.5 million, and Temple received $41.7 million .

In New Jersey, the largest recipient was the Rutgers Biomedical Health Sciences-New Jersey Medical School, which got $28.1 million. The Coriell Institute for Medical Research in Camden received $2.8 million.

Drug research takes years, and most NIH grants allow a university or private company to keep the intellectual property rights to drugs produced and money that comes from sales. NIH does the initial science, sometimes through the first of three phases of clinical trials, because the risk of failure is often too great for private companies.

Collins said pharmaceutical company CEOs, who justify high drug prices because of the risk of research failure, know that the government - through NIH - funds lots of basic research, with perhaps 70 percent of the drugs on the market having a connection to NIH funding.

But what about taxpayers?

"I'm not sure that situation is well-appreciated by the average person taking their statin," Collins said in an interview with The Inquirer. "We have a bit of an image problem, and that is true of Congress, as well, because the Congress is a snapshot of the public. Certainly, there are folks in the Congress, I think, who imagine that what goes on in biomedical research is all done in the private sector."

On March 27, a mixed-party group of 54 senators sent a letter to the chair and vice chair of two key senate committees urging a "strong commitment" to NIH funding. Both New Jersey senators, Robert Menendez (D.) and Cory Booker (D.) signed the letter, as did Pennsylvania senator Bob Casey (D.).

Casey prefers NIH funding to be treated more like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, which are not part of the annual appropriations debate.

"The funding is essential," Casey said in an interview. "An ancillary benefit is that it is a jobs creator and a creator of jobs with high wages."

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R.) did not sign the letter. Toomey spokeswoman E.R. Anderson said he does not sign letters to appropriations committees, but he supported the omnibus funding bill in December 2014 that increased funding for NIH.