As sequestration threatens to obstruct progress in biomedical and health research, members of the research community are continuing to speak out against these across-the-board spending cuts. Research!America Board member Larry Shapiro, MD, dean of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis’, shared his concerns in an article from the Associated Press.
At Washington University in St. Louis and other research institutions across the country, “automatic cuts are causing anxiety among young researchers who are wondering what career options they’ll have if the current economic climate becomes ‘the new normal,’” according to the article.
”This is all that’s being discussed in the hallways and over coffee,” Shapiro told the AP. He added that two genetics researchers recently decided to leave St. Louis and relocate their labs to the United Kingdom in this environment of diminished funding.
“Scientists are passionate about their work, and they’ll go where they have the best opportunity to accomplish it,” Shapiro said in the story.
With reduced funding for young scientists and innovative projects, senior researchers warn that the U.S. will experience a “brain drain,” with promising young scientists heading overseas where funding for research is becoming more abundant. Shapiro isn’t the only academic leader worried about federal funding cuts; read the comments of others in academia in the article.
Now available online, Research!America’s Annual Report, “Reasons for Research,” recounts the progress made in research advocacy by Research!America and its members representing academia, industry, scientific societies, patient groups and foundations. In addition to highlighting the 2012 Advocacy Awardees and Garfield Economic Impact Awardees, the report details Research!America initiatives such as the ongoing Save Research campaign and the Your Candidates–Your Health national voter education initiative. The annual report also includes polling data, statements from speakers at the National Health Research Forum — including the heads of the federal health agencies — and other Research!America activities in collaboration with members and partners.
The theme for this year’s report, Reasons for Research, is reflected in a new webpage on Research!America’s website. Here you can read testimonials of patients and young scientists highlighting their reasons for research. Without continued advocacy and support for biomedical and health research, these young scientists may not be able to pursue their passion: investigating cures and treatments for patients like those featured on this webpage.
On March 14, Research!America hosted a neglected tropical disease panel at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) conference, “Are NTDs a Growing Threat? Research, Access and Next Steps.” The conversation was moderated by Karen Goraleski, Executive Director of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) and featured the following panelists: Rachel Cohen, Regional Executive Director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi); Brian D’Cruz, Emergency Physician with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières North America; LeAnne Fox, Medical Officer and Team Lead on NTDs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Kristy Murray, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine and Mark Rosenberg, President and CEO of the Task Force for Global Health.
The panelists first discussed the global burden of neglected tropical diseases. Moderator Karen Goraleski started the afternoon by pointing out that “global health is America’s health,” and that sentiment was echoed throughout. NTDs all over the world were mentioned from sleeping sickness in remote villages of Africa to onchocerciasis in Columbia to dengue fever and West Nile in Texas and Florida. These diseases not only impact the health of affected individuals, but ultimately hamper economic development. Specifically, Dr. Fox asked how “an individual with an enormous leg could reach their earning potential?’ or how could a child with a helminth infection learn or focus as well in school?”
Unfortunately, the answer is that individuals affected by these debilitating diseases cannot reach their full potential. In the face of these extreme health and economic burdens, all panelists highlighted the importance of research in global efforts to combat NTDs. It is crucial to develop new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines to combat these diseases. Sufficient tools simply do not exist for many NTDs and many available tools are extremely difficult or impractical for use in low-resource settings. When reflecting on his on-the-ground work in Africa, Dr. Cruz said that he “can clearly see the need for new diagnostics and treatment strategies – there is so much more to be done in screening and care for neglected patients.”
Although these types of research projects have the potential to save millions of lives, funding is often insufficient. Because NTDs disproportionately affect people in poverty, there is limited market demand for new tools and thus, the private sector typically has little incentive for investment. Unfortunately, public sources of funding are also scarce and recent sequestration cuts have jeopardized NTD work at NIH, CDC and DoD. However, Ms. Cohen pointed out that new models of public-private collaboration are extremely promising. She stressed the importance of a mix of public and private funding, particularly in the field of drug development, where publicly funded research is an excellent base, but requires private sector involvement for mass production of drugs. She noted that factors such as motivated CEOs, emerging markets and corporate social responsibility efforts have begun to push the private sector to be more involved in the fight against NTDs.
The final theme that emerged from the panel centered around Dr. Rosenberg’s remark that “compassion is crucial in the fight against NTDs. Even if there is no threat of these diseases to us in the U.S., they affect over one billion people around the world and we should care because it’s about equity and justice.” Research!America’s polling supports that Americans are a generous group and support global health. Ms. Goraleski wrapped up by saying that we must harness this sentiment and intent, starting with everyone in attendance. If we can work together to raise awareness of NTDs and advocate for more funding to advance NTD research, one day we can have the tools necessary to eliminate these diseases.
–Morgan McCloskey, global health intern
Research!America will honor extraordinary leaders in biomedical and health research advocacy at the 17th Annual Advocacy Awards tonight, March 13, at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, DC. This year’s Advocacy Award Winners are: Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Bob Casey (D-PA); Diane Rehm, author and host of WAMU 88.5 and NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show”; John F. Crowley, patient advocate, inspirational entrepreneur, and chairman and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics, Inc.; John Mendelsohn, MD, director, Khalifa Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy and former president of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Mark Rosenberg, MD, president and CEO, The Task Force for Global Health; and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).
“The leadership demonstrated by this year’s award recipients has inspired others to push boundaries to improve the health of Americans and maintain our competitive edge in science and innovation,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America. “As advocates, they have contributed significantly to making biomedical and health research a higher national priority.”
Follow Research!America on Twitter (@researchamerica) and visit our Facebook page to get more information about tonight’s event. Look for photos of the Awards Dinner on our Flickr account and video clips on our YouTube page in the coming days.
For more information about the honorees, visit www.researchamerica.org/advocacy_awards and read our latest press release. You can also follow news updates from our honorees. Read Senator Burr’s blog and news from Senator Casey; visit The Diane Rehm Show’s Facebook page; don’t miss the Crowley family’s website and Amicus Therapeutics news; keep up with news about Mendelsohn and the Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy; Rosenberg and the Task Force for Global Health’s online news room is full of great information; and don’t miss CIRM’s blog.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Nepalese man detained at the U.S.-Mexico border has extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis, XDR-TB. Tuberculosis, a potentially fatal disease that can be passed through the air, has historically been curable with appropriate treatment. However, new strains of TB that are resistant to available drugs have recently emerged and pose a significant public health threat. Some strains are resistant to only a few drugs (multi-drug resistant TB) while other strains, such as the one carried by the man in this story, are resistant to nearly all existing drugs. Because of this, XDR-TB is extremely difficult to treat and experts warn that new drugs will be necessary to treat growing numbers of patients with this disease.
In addition to the need for new drugs to combat XDR-TB, this case underscores the need for improved TB diagnostics. Because this man was tested in the U.S., his samples were sent to an advanced laboratory that had the equipment necessary to detect the drug-resistant strain. However, many developing countries where TB poses the largest burden do not have the technological or health infrastructure to accurately diagnose XDR-TB cases. Therefore, patients may not receive appropriate treatment, which is detrimental to their own health and means that they can continue to pass drug-resistant TB onto others. Research to develop simple, efficient and low-cost TB diagnostics is urgently needed.
Unfortunately, this story is not an isolated case. Prior to entering the U.S., the man had made his way through 13 countries and had likely come into close contact with hundreds of people, many of whom may have been infected. In this era of globalization, diseases will continue to cross international borders and it is imperative that public funding for new tools and for this type of research is sustained.
–Morgan McCloskey, global health intern
Did you know that neglected tropical diseases such as dengue, Chagas and hookworm affect over 1.4 billion people worldwide, including individuals here in the U.S.? To discuss the global burden of NTDs and how federal funding and policy decisions impact the research and development of tools to combat these diseases around the world, Research!America will be hosting a panel at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) conference*. The panel, “Are NTDs a Growing Threat? Research, Access and Next Steps,” will be held on Thursday, March 14 at 1:30 p.m. at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
The conversation will be moderated by Karen Goraleski, Executive Director of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) and will feature the following panelists: Rachel Cohen, Regional Executive Director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi); Brian D’Cruz, Emergency Physician with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières North America; LeAnne Fox, Medical Officer and Team Lead on NTDs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Kristy Murray, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine and Mark Rosenberg, President and CEO of the Task Force for Global Health.
*Please note that attendance at the CUGH conference requires registration fees. For more information, please visit the conference website here.
New research from Research!America member Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis shows that a component of bee venom can be safely used to target and kill HIV virus particles while leaving human cells intact. The compound, called melittin, punches holes in the outer protective coat, or “envelope,” of viruses, including HIV. Researchers modified the nanoparticle to protect human cells from the toxin by adding “bumpers” to prevent the toxin-laden particles from fusing with cells, yet the smaller virus particles are able to fit between these bumpers and interact with melittin.
The lead author on the study, Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD, says that application of this new compound should be highly effective in preventing new infections and controlling existing infections, particularly in HIV strains that are resistant to current therapies.
“We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV,” Hood said in an article from the WUSTL Newsroom. “The virus has to have a protective coat,” making it theoretically impossible for the virus to adapt to the toxin and become resistant to a therapy based on melittin. Researchers say that this nanoparticle can be administered through a vaginal gel to prevent new infections or intravenously to control existing infections.
This new research, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gives new life to the nanoparticle that was originally developed as an artificial blood product. Though the particle “didn’t work very well for delivering oxygen … it circulates safely in the body” and can be adapted to fight many kinds of infections or disease processes, according to Hood’s interview with WUSTL. These early findings are based on work done in a cell-based research system but show great promise for clinical trials. Hood and his colleagues are confident that these nanoparticles could be easily manufactured in large quantities to make clinical trials possible. Read more about this study in the Huffington Post or see the original scientific article, published in Antiviral Therapy.
Advances in biomedical research like this study are at risk of losing funding under sequestration, which took effect March 1. And with these across-the-board cuts to federal research agencies, clinical trials with this nanoparticle antiviral compound or other promising drugs may not happen. Without basic science research into novel therapeutic strategies or mechanisms of disease, potential cures for deadly disease will remain elusive.
-by Megan Kane, Communications Intern
March 8, International Women’s Day, “has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike,” reads InternationalWomansDay.com, a global hub for sharing news and resources about the day. While great strides have been made in the past hundred years to improve the health and equality of women in America, there are still areas of medical care and research where women are at risk; these areas represent a great opportunity for America to lead the way in promoting health and equality for women around the world. Some Research!America alliance member organizations work every day to bring increased awareness to health issues affecting women or to advocate for females in research and science careers.
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) is a national non-profit organization that seeks to “bring attention to the myriad of diseases and conditions that affect women uniquely.” SWHR has helped make women’s health issues a national priority by advocating for greater funding for sex-based biological differences research and legislative and regulatory issues related to women’s health, as well as administering public educational campaigns on women’s health. WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is the only national patient-centered organization that focuses exclusively on women’s heart disease. The overall mission of WomenHeart is “to improve the health and quality of life of women living with or at risk of heart disease, and to advocate for their benefit.”
Though the number of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) research disciplines is gradually rising, there is still a significant disparity in the ratio of men to women in STEM careers. The Association for Women in Science, or AWIS, advocates for the interests of women in science and technology. AWIS seeks to educate the public about bias against women in STEM careers, the disparities in career advancement and underrepresentation of women in the STEM workforce through publication of fact sheets and advocacy activities.
The U.S. government is committed to improving women’s health around the globe. Through policies and programs such as the Global Health Initiative, women’s health activities under PEPFAR and an executive order to develop a U.S. strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, the U.S. has made significant investments in women’s health. At a recent event about U.S. priorities for women’s global health in the president’s second term, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said “nothing has a greater return than investment in women’s health” and promised that the U.S. will continue to operate under the “guiding principle that no woman should be denied access to the care she needs for a healthy life for her and her children.”
Find local International Women’s Day events through the InternationalWomansDay.com event calendar. In the Washington, DC area, look for a launch event for an international network designed to help women grow their careers through mentoring. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, UN Women, will be offering a free webcast of its International Women’s Day event at the UN headquarters in New York.
Just released data from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) details the final amount to be cut from federal research program budgets as sequestration goes into effect. The full details are available on the updated Research!America sequestration fact sheet, though previous projections were relatively accurate as compared to these final numbers.
Cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration will be higher than previously expected, with a combined loss of $593 million dollars for FY13. That amount is roughly equivalent to ensuring the safety of new medical and biological products at the FDA and programs that focus on prevention of HIV/AIDS at CDC. The National Institutes of Health will lose more than $1.5 billion this year alone, enough to fund three major research programs at the National Cancer Institute. The National Science Foundation will lose $290 million, an amount that would almost fully fund the NSF budget for materials research, which includes studies on biomaterials and metallic nanostructures.
On March 4, NIH-supported investigators reported the first ever “functional cure” of HIV in a toddler in Mississippi. The child received antiretroviral drugs within hours of birth and continued on the drugs for 18 months, when treatment was stopped. Despite discontinued treatment, the toddler no longer had detectable levels of HIV when seen by medical professionals 6 months later. Subsequent tests confirmed that the child had indeed been “functionally cured” of HIV. Although more research is necessary to see if these results can be duplicated, scientists believe this provides hope for the hundreds of thousands of children born with HIV each year. NIH funding not only supported investigators involved in monitoring the child, but also played an instrumental historical role in developing the antiretroviral drugs that were used to cure the child. We are one step closer to a world free from HIV.
In light of this breakthrough, it is disturbing and sadly ironic that Congress and the White House on Friday permitted federal funding for biomedical research to be cut — after years of sustained or increased funding – as part of sequestration. How much progress will be squandered if these cuts, and the indifference to American priorities they exemplify, aren’t reversed?