Monthly Archives: March, 2013

One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or dementia

A new report from the Alzheimer’s Association reveals that one in three seniors suffer from some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s by their death. Deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s and dementia have increased 68% from 2000 to 2010.

Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association and Research!America Board member, said in an Alzheimer’s Association release  that “urgent, meaningful action is necessary, particularly as more and more people age into greater risk for developing a disease that today has no cure and no way to slow or stop its progression.”

USA Today reports that the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to nearly triple by 2050, resulting in an increasing burden on medical costs and caregivers. Currently, there is no way to prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.

With growing health care costs consuming the federal budget, policy makers are considering ways to reduce the cost of Medicare and Medicaid. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that the direct cost of caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s will total more than $200 billion in 2013 alone, with nearly $150 billion of that spending expected to come from Medicare and Medicaid. Increased investments in medical and health research will help improve the treatment and prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“We have wanted to see a $2 billion commitment to research, because we’ve seen what has happened in diseases like HIV/AIDS when a big financial commitment is made,” said Maria Carrillo, PhD, vice president of medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer’s Association, in the article. Over the same 10-year period that saw an increase in Alzheimer’s deaths, HIV/AIDS related deaths decreased 42%, according to the Alzheimer’s Association study.

This report shows that now is not the time to cut back on America’s investment in biomedical and health research. Contact your representatives and urge them to make research for health a higher national priority.

Advertisements

Research!America Board member speaks out against sequestration

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.

Reasons for Research: Research!America’s 2012 Annual Report

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.

Congratulations to our Advocacy Award Winners

Research!America extends our congratulations again to all of our 2013 Advocacy Award winners. The dinner was a wonderful opportunity to thank our supporters and advocates for all of their hard work and recognize leaders in the research and advocacy communities. This year’s Advocacy Award winners were Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC); Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA); John F. Crowley, patient advocate and chairman and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics, Inc.; Mark Rosenberg, MD, president and CEO of The Task Force for Global Health; John Mendelsohn, MD, director of the Khalifa Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy and former president at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Diane Rehm, host of “The Diane Rehm Show” on NPR; and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

You can read more about the awards and speech by Research!America Chair John Porter in this Roll Call article, in this article about Dr. Rosenberg’s award, and on CIRM’s blog. Also, visit our Facebook page and website to see photos from the awards dinner.

While we applaud our awardees for their efforts, there is still more to be done! As Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley said in her recent weekly advocacy message, Congress is working on the budget for FY14 and there is still time to contact your representatives and tell them to make research funding a higher priority.

Research!America Hosts NTD Panel

cugh1

From left: Karen Goraleski, LeAnne Fox, Kristy Murray, Brian D’Cruz, Rachel Cohen, Mark Rosenberg

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

cugh2

Audience

 

cugh3

Continued discussion after panel

 

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Will Policy Makers let Rome Burn?

Dear Research Advocate,

Today, the Senate is planning to vote on a bipartisan continuing resolution from Sens. Mikulski and Shelby to fund the federal government through the end of the year. The good news is that the bill includes an increase, albeit small ($71 million) in NIH funding; Senator Harkin tried, unsuccessfully, unfortunately, to increase NIH even further, and Senator Durbin worked on an ambitious amendment to add more than $1.5 billion to the NIH budget. We truly appreciate the efforts of all of these champions and the fact that NIH funding was singled out for an increase on a bipartisan basis by the Appropriations Committee. The bad news is that sequestration will wipe out all of these increases. The most likely outcome of the Senate appropriations process is a cut to NIH in the $1.5 billion range. While our community’s herculean advocacy efforts over the last several months are paying off — medical research funding is clearly receiving priority consideration — sequestration is sweeping away our progress. We must continue to fight this policy mistake, with its 10 years of consequences. Take a minute right now to speak out to your representatives. And plan, on April 8, to join the research community at a Rally in D.C. to fight for medical research. Learn more here.

Another amendment offered to the Senate legislation would eliminate political science research at NSF by transferring those dollars to the National Cancer Institute. This amendment sets a dangerous precedent that threatens the integrity and value of research. For years, leaders in Congress from both sides of the aisle, including Research!America’s chairman, former Congressman John Porter, have fought off attempts by Congress to micromanage research. We must fight to keep research decisions off the House and Senate floors and in the hands of scientists and patients.

The House and Senate budget resolutions for FY14, which were also introduced this week, are emblematic of the problem we, as a country, face. The ideological divide is so great that “a grand bargain,” one that will balance the federal budget without decimating our economy and forsaking our determination to defeat disabling and deadly diseases, seems impossible. But Congress and the White House report to the American people. We can and must demand compromise between competing views of the government’s role, and we must stand up for priorities like fighting diseases that threaten our own and future generations. No more political party posturing usurping the governing process. No more across-the-board cuts. FY14 must bring with it pragmatism, prioritization and policy making that puts the country first. Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has penned a compelling op-ed in Roll Call capturing these sentiments.

Switching gears in this very big week, I’d like to thank all who were able to join us for yesterday’s Annual Meeting and Advocacy Awards dinner. We heard truly inspirational remarks from Sens. Richard Burr and Bob Casey, champions of the entire ecosystem behind U.S.-driven medical progress. Our other award winners — John Crowley, Diane Rehm, Dr. John Mendelsohn, Dr. Mark Rosenberg and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine — are strong advocates for research; we salute their achievements.

Finally, as I announced at our Board meeting, I’m proud that Research!America has entered into a letter of agreement with our sister organizations in Australia, Canada and Sweden to ensure international collaboration by sharing best practices in advocacy for research for health. While our organizations operate in different countries and in distinctly different political environments, we have in common a fundamental commitment to making biomedical and health research a higher global priority.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

Research!America’s Advocacy Awards are tonight!

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.

Drug-Resistant TB in the U.S.

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 

Research!America Hosts NTD Panel at CUGH Conference

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.

MS Awareness Week is March 11-17

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is marking this year’s multiple sclerosis Awareness Week with a national campaign, “Every Connection Counts.” The campaign seeks to raise awareness of MS and draw attention to the impact of MS; this disease “divides minds from bodies, pulls people from their lives and away from one another,” according to the National MS Society.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, debilitating condition that is triggered by the body’s immune system attacking the central nervous system, which includes the brain, spine and optic nerves. This aberrant immune response targets myelin, a protective sheath that covers nerve fibers like rubber around an electrical copper wire. Without the protective myelin cover, nerves don’t transmit signals properly and are more susceptible to damage from future immune attacks.

The symptoms of MS can be erratic and each patient’s symptoms can vary widely, from blurred vision to loss of muscle control and paralysis. Medical diagnosis of MS is complicated by the variability in which parts of the body are affected and how often the symptoms are present. In some patients, symptoms flare up and then get better, while in others the symptoms progress and get worse over time with no significant periods of improvement.

Visit the National MS Society’s webpage to access tools and resources for MS Awareness Week. You can also read Research!America’s recently published fact sheet about MS, published with the MS Society, here. Want to get involved in advocacy for the MS Society? Check out their upcoming events that are held through the US and watch their YouTube video on MS advocacy.

Researchers develop nanoparticles to kill HIV with bee venom

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 

International Women’s Day: Women’s health and research in the spotlight

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.

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Don’t Settle for the “New Normal”

Dear Research Advocate,

Yesterday, the House passed a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year that includes this year’s cuts from sequestration along with an additional one percent across-the-board cut.  The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration, where we are likely to see higher funding levels than the House version, but with sequestration still in place. Congress seems anxious to avoid the brinksmanship and the government shutdown threats that have characterized past debates. While the less rancorous environment surrounding the CR is a welcome change, the complacency around sequestration is not.  As research advocates, we cannot let these cuts stand.

Sequestration isn’t a one-year cut, it is ten years worth of cuts, none of which are evidence-based.  We may be looking at the early stages of an elusive “grand bargain” as the president meets with Republican senators to discuss tax and entitlement reform – two key pieces for solving the deficit puzzle. Eliminating sequestration must be part of that bargain. In addition, we must ensure that funding for biomedical and health research, including the resources FDA needs to do its job, are assigned a high priority in fiscal year 2014. That should be reflected in the budget resolution and obviously in the FY 2014 funding bill.

None of this will be easy. Working together, advocates have raised the profile of medical research with policymakers and the media. We need to turn the volume up louder yet on it, while cultivating more champions in Congress.  Continuing to engage the media is part of that equation.  Some of the largest news outlets in the country including Fox News, NBC, and CBS, and a number that are new to our issue including Al Jazeera quoted Research!America when writing about sequestration’s impact on science. The Economist published a thoughtful piece about how cutting American health research will harm the world. Industry is adding its voice with an op-ed in Forbes coauthored by three legendary executives, including Research!America board member and former NIH director, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, Marc Tessier-Lavigne of The Rockefeller University and P. Roy Vagelos, Chairman of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. I also want to highlight a letter that Dr. Herb Pardes, Executive Vice Chairman at New York Presbyterian and Research!America board member, sent to the President.  He captures the very themes that will anchor our advocacy going forward.

At the same time as policymakers were cutting federally funded research dollars, researchers were delivering another astonishing breakthrough – the real possibility of a functional cure for HIV. This remarkable achievement, bringing us a step closer to a world free from the scourge of HIV/AIDS, would not have been possible were it not for NIH funding that supported the research and development of anti-retroviral drugs. The CDC is also in the news, with troubling warnings about the spread of “nightmare bacteria” – germs that can be deadly because they are resistant to traditional medicines.  As CDC works to track and halt the spread of these germs and fulfill the numerous other public health functions for which they are responsible, the agency is not only contending with sequestration. Over the past several years, CDC has been subject to some of the deepest cuts of any health agency. Our Nation is fast approaching a tipping point.  Are public health and safety and the progress borne of medical innovation priorities, or not?

As many of you already know our annual events are coming up next week! Please join us for the Annual Meeting (free of charge to members) to hear remarks from Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA), a freshman member of Congress who is already championing research, and also John Crowley, CEO of Amicus Therapeutics. I hope to see you all at our Annual Advocacy Awards Dinner later that evening – seats are selling fast, but still available.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

Updated: Sequestration impact on federally funded research programs

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.

Toddler “functionally cured” of HIV

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?