Dear Research Advocate:
This week’s CDC announcement of the worst-case Ebola scenario is staggering. Saying, “Let’s be honest with ourselves …” President Obama addressed the UN this morning on the escalating threat posed by Ebola, urging world leaders to work together to address this truly global crisis. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) program, which received additional funding for Ebola drug development as part of the recently passed continuing resolution (CR), is a terrific example of how the public and private sectors can work together to develop drugs for national and global health threats like Ebola. BARDA provides market incentives so that private sector innovators can work on noncommercial emergencies. It’s a cost-effective strategy since it precludes the need for government to build drug development capacity the private sector already has, and it’s a good reminder that medical and health research is not about government funding, academic research, or private sector R&D. It’s about all of these things and all of us, working together to save lives.
Let’s be honest with ourselves about something else: policies that cripple private sector investment in research are stifling science. One such policy involves the research and development (R&D) tax credit, which – despite historical bipartisan support – expired at the end of 2013 and has not been reinstated. Businesses of all sizes across a wide swath of scientific sectors rely on predictable, annual extensions of this tax credit (not that annual extensions are ideal; Congress would also be wise to finally make this credit permanent). Please consider sending a message to your representatives about the importance of reinstating and enhancing the R&D tax credit. Here are two good resources, one nationwide quantitative analysis from the National Association of Manufacturers and one qualitative account of the effects on businesses in Pennsylvania. Members of Congress must work together and quickly upon their return to Washington after the election to not only reinstate the R&D tax credit, but to enhance its reach and effectiveness. And they must pass an appropriations package that recommits to scientific innovation. Note I use the word “must,” not “should.” When one assumes the role of leader, displaying leadership should not be an option.
And let’s be honest that we are under-investing in our federal research agencies. Determined to alter this state of affairs, Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY-26), along with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03), recently introduced the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act in the House. The congressman is using some of his district work period/campaigning season to tour institutions that receive NIH funding in his district. If only more incumbents and challengers followed his example! Rather than despairing that there aren’t more like Mr. Higgins, now is the time to work toward the day that there will be! Candidates who hear voters like you speak passionately now about the importance of advancing medical progress are more likely to become champions for research when they enter Congress next January. Personal stories about why research matters in your life and in your community make for some of the most persuasive advocacy tools.
Let’s be honest that along with personal stories, data truly is important (my advice: tell your story first, after that, add data). Consider the new easy-to-use district-level federal research funding fact sheets from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). These local, by-the-numbers summaries provide information about the number of grants received in nearly 400 congressional districts from the NIH, NSF, DOE Office of Science, and Agriculture and Food Research Initiative in the Department of Agriculture and are useful additions when making your case for research. We urge you to share this data as well as your commitment to voter education with five of your friends and family! Join us in the “5 this Fall” campaign on social media.
Final note of honesty about social media … it works! Think “Ice Bucket Challenge” and think about the new ACT for NIH campaign, which is using “selfies” as a way to remind voters and policymakers that research is for everyone, leading to better lives for ourselves, our friends and our loved ones. Reaching an ever-expanding audience via social media is critical. I hope you’ll join Act for NIH by sharing a selfie on social media with the hashtag #ACT4NIH.