Dear Research Advocate:
Today, Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) released the Senate’s 302(b) allocations, which were approved by the Appropriations Committee. As you know from last week, the House 302(b) allocation for the Labor-HHS subcommittee is approximately $1 billion less in fiscal year 2015 than it was in FY 14.The Senate’s allocation for FY 15 is roughly the same as it was in FY 14. The bottom line is that, as expected, we have our work cut out for us to achieve the increases needed for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and our nation’s other health research agencies. Fortunately, Senator Mikulski and other leaders from both sides of the aisle understand the importance of investing in research to drive U.S. innovation. That doesn’t reduce advocates’ workload, but it makes success more than a longshot.
Earlier this week, both the House and the Senate Appropriations subcommittees on Agriculture considered bills that would fund the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in FY 15. The House version calls for a $23 million increase (less than 1%) while the Senate version provides a $36 million increase. While appropriators deserve credit for finding additional dollars for the FDA given overall FY 15 budget constraints, this agency’s responsibility for protecting the very safety of Americans requires more dollars than this.
One role of advocates is to remind Congress that when the FDA is required to run on fumes, the consequences extend beyond food and drug safety. The FDA is also a first responder. For example, in the past few weeks, we have seen the first cases and first person-to-person transmission of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the United States. Since its emergence in 2012, the virus has killed over 170 people and infected over 500 individuals. It’s not just the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but also the FDA, that faces heightened responsibilities when threats like this emerge. For example, the agency works with the CDC to deploy countermeasures that may still be in the experimental stage quickly and safely. Sounds simple? It isn’t. These are judgment calls that require expertise and rapid research, and both require resources. No budget decision is innocuous, but one that under-funds the FDA is outright dangerous.
Will the next Congress continue this dangerous trend of underfunding research agencies and stalling medical progress, inherently putting Americans at risk? Ask Your Candidates! is an initiative that aims to answer that question. Send a message TODAY to candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate from your state. If you don’t get a response the first time, keep trying! You deserve answers.
I’d like to switch gears to another issue that poses danger, this time to subsets of our population too often underrepresented when the safety and efficacy of new medical products are tested. The NIH is attempting to address one aspect of this problem by directing researchers to include more female mice in their studies. In a letter to the editor responding to a recent New York Times article on this policy change, our Vice President of Communications, Suzanne Ffolkes, also pointed out the need to diversify clinical trials to include more minority participants. Suzanne cited polling data indicating low enrollment among minority groups despite a willingness to participate if recommended by a healthcare professional. As you recall from previous letters, PhRMA has launched a major initiative, I’m In, aimed straight at this issue, with resources that can help minority patients learn more about clinical trial participation. It’s an example of the private sector helping to serve a critical public purpose, and their work is to be applauded.
This week’s letter was authored by Mike Coburn, Chief Operating Officer at Research!America.