Excerpt of an op-ed by Research!America Chair The Hon. John E. Porter and Research!America Board member The Hon. Kweisi Mfume published in The Hill.
The value of innovation has captured the attention of policymakers as they debate the merits of federally funded medical and health research. There is clearly bi-partisan support for research but battle lines have been deeply drawn over funding for research agencies in this tight fiscal climate.
The National Institutes of Health – the world’s leading funder of game-changing basic medical research – and other agencies contributing to the research pipeline are still affected by sequestration, the ongoing automatic spending cuts that have gutted promising research and shuttered labs. Congressional support for legislation to fund children’s health research demonstrates interest in accelerating medical progress, but the amount is miniscule compared to what’s needed to fuel our engine of discovery. The NIH has lost about 25 percent of its purchasing power in the last decade, jeopardizing the development of lifesaving therapies unleashed by genomics and other scientific breakthroughs. As a result, young scientists unable to secure grants for innovative research are leaving their careers, and institutions are struggling to continue important NIH-funded studies that could help combat national and global health threats.
To address the recent spread of polio in the Middle East and Africa, and the growing epidemic of noncommunicable diseases, we need more training and research to effectively put scientific discovery into practice. Sufficient resources will enable the NIH to train more scientists to better address global health issues which also affect us closer to home – heart disease, cancer, mental illness, diabetes and HIV/AIDS. Outbreaks of polio have impacted a nearly three-decade effort to eradicate the disease globally. The World Health Organization has declared the disease an international public health emergency as it re-emerges in Pakistan, Cameroon, Syria and other countries previously free of polio which can kill or cripple the hardest-hit victims.
Why isn’t Congress paying closer attention to the health threats before us? To accelerate innovation, protect health and save lives, policymakers must close the massive gap between the level of funding necessary to advance medical progress and the token funding levels allocated to research over the last several years.