By Bart Peterson, JD, senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications at Lilly
I recently had a wonderful opportunity to address the National Health Research Forum, hosted by Research!America. As you may know, this important forum brings together leaders from the public and private sectors to discuss pressing matters that affect the future of research and development in our country.
As I mentioned in my speech, from 2000-2007 I had the honor of serving as the mayor of Indianapolis. Although Indianapolis has a solid economic base, I often wondered how other cities in my home state would fare in the headwinds of diverse economic challenges. Indiana is dotted with cities of fewer than 100,000 people all built up around manufacturing – cities that lost their manufacturing facilities to a shifting economy and an increasingly competitive global marketplace. What was going to be the future of these cities? Would they be on the map 50 years from now?
But that said, there were some Indiana cities of the same size that I never worried about at all. I didn’t worry about South Bend or West Lafayette or Bloomington. These are cities of 100,000 people or less, but they are home to the University of Notre Dame, Purdue University, and Indiana University.
These great research universities have ensured a bright future and a steady economic base for these cities. Back then, I didn’t think systematically about innovation and R&D the way I do now at Lilly. But I instinctively understood that these academic centers offered their host cities a competitive advantage because of the innovation derived from these institutions.
The U.S. is the global leader in innovation, driving, for example, 80 percent of all the world’s biotech R&D. We lead because we have an innovation ecosystem — but our ecosystem requires sound public policy to remain healthy. From the private sector perspective, this means that we need solid intellectual property protection; a regulatory system that’s fair, rigorous, and transparent; and a market-based system of health care delivery and pricing that offers choice for patients and healthcare providers.
But the public sector has a role far beyond just producing sound public policy. Public funding for research faces dire threats, but this research is critical to the future of the biomedical sciences. In the private sector, we share concerns about these threats. We also believe in promoting collaborations that can be most successful when led by the public sector and when patients are empowered to engage.
The stakes are very high. We need new medicines and technologies. Advances in heart health and in the fight against communicable diseases have allowed people to live longer – long enough to get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and cancer in alarming numbers.
Even with all our medical advances, a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer remains as terrifying as it ever was. Given the incredible odds stacked against biopharmaceutical R&D, at times it seems we might do better going to Las Vegas and putting money down at the roulette wheel.
But despite feeling as if the scientific deck is stacked because so many efforts ultimately fail, there are thousands of compounds in development around the world today – with the U.S. leading the way.
We’re sitting on the edge of a research renaissance. We have the opportunity to change the course of human history. To prevent diseases, mitigate suffering, and save lives, the U.S. must continue leading that effort. But we can only lead if we do the right things and fight for public policies that support research.