Dear Research Advocate:
I start this letter by sharing our excitement that Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI-06) and Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO-01) will receive the Edwin C. Whitehead Award for Medical Research Advocacy this year. Their leadership on the 21st Century Cures initiative is just the latest example of their “all-in” commitment to medical progress. The (loose) theme of this week’s letter is “walk the talk”: there are few leaders in Congress who have more consistently or productively adhered to that mantra. Read our press release here.
Our Whitehead winners are shepherding a change in direction for public policy related to medical innovation. Complacency and neglect are out and bold action to bolster resources and achieve time- and cost-saving efficiencies is in. Not a moment too soon: a report authored by Dr. Hamilton Moses et. al. this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) documents the disturbing slowdown in U.S. investment in medical research, made all the more striking in contrast to dramatically increased investment by other nations. The authors emphasize that languishing investments cannot and will not produce the meaningful medical breakthroughs our society is expecting.
Institute of Medicine (IOM) President, Dr. Victor Dzau, a Research!America board member, and former IOM President Dr. Harvey Fineberg have weighed in with an accompanying essay, also in this week’s JAMA, that further underscores the consequences of diminished leadership. They endorse increased appropriations for research, ideally in the “protected or more ensured” fashion adopted by other nations, as well as creating robust alternative funding streams. They further propose establishing a comprehensive national research vision and strategy. We agree and believe the new congressionally mandated Blue Ribbon Commission can get the ball rolling by engaging in a conversation with Americans, exploring how science is perceived today and how they feel it can be put to its most positive use.
Leading organizations in the science arena are contributing new thinking that can help shape a broader science strategy. This week, for example, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) offered concrete recommendations for strengthening our nation’s medical research ecosystem. These recommendations, which are both inward- and outward-facing, address funding, workforce issues and resource- draining red tape. Again, the underlying message is that we need to be more strategic, committing to systemic changes and a more robust, sustained and predictable funding stream in order to reignite U.S. medical progress. FASEB is soliciting comments from the community; if you’d like to weigh in, please submit your comments here.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) penned an op-ed in POLITICO this week calling for more transparency and accountability in science agencies’ decision making. More transparency is a worthy goal and taxpayers are well served by it. What isn’t transparent in the op-ed piece is the grounds for which Paul and Smith make the assumption that more transparency will result in a pre-determined reordering of priorities for science. Calling for transparency in order to target specific grants or areas of research is not a way to assure either evidence-based policymaking nor scientific progress.
Increased transparency that makes the multi-faceted benefits of science more visible, strategic planning and system-wide innovations that reinvigorate the research ecosystem … all of it makes eminent sense, and all of it depends on whether policymakers and research stakeholders not only talk the talk, but walk it. What will President Obama emphasize in his State of the Union address on Tuesday? Will medical progress make the list? I would like to think that remarks made by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell today are telegraphing the President’s message. She spoke about the importance of research and innovation at some length, emphasizing the promise of precision medicine, in particular. She said it’s in our children’s interest to make sure that medical innovations happen; it’s in our economy’s interest to make sure they happen here. Well said! You can share your priorities with the President for his speech via #SOTU2015.