A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Science and the State of the Union

Dear Research Advocate:

The State of the Union (SOTU) message is the annual opportunity for the President to outline his goals. Read my statement on it here. The SOTU historically provides a platform for the executive and legislative branches to identify commonalities, or sharpen differences. Topics in our sights on which Congress and the Administration can work together should they choose (meaning if their constituents demand it!) include innovation, research and development, and 21st century business success. In his speech and in a more detailed proposal, the President calls for a significant increase in funding for antibiotic discovery, Alzheimer’s research, the BRAIN Initiative and precision medicine. We urge the President and Congress to go further, working together to advance a strategic “moonshot” that re-energizes our national commitment to science, very much including basic science. Basic discovery is truly the foundation for all of our nation’s scientific advances. It’s pretty simple. As Dr. Roger Perlmutter, Executive Vice President at Merck, said this week in The New York Times: “Since we don’t know how the machine [the human body] works, we don’t know what to do when it breaks.”

Investment in basic and clinical research isn’t a “nice to have” proposition; it’s essential, leading as nothing else will, to good news for patients. An op-ed this week from Executive Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Research!America board member Dr. Larry Shapiro discusses the university’s work, funded by the federal government, which has led to advances in early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s before symptoms are perceptible.

When publicly funded research, such as that at Wash U, is leveraged in partnership with other stakeholders, previously unimaginable progress becomes reality. You may have heard that one of the First Lady’s SOTU guests was William Elder Jr., a medical school student living with cystic fibrosis. When he was born, the prognosis for life with cystic fibrosis was bleak. But today, Bill’s condition is manageable thanks to groundbreaking treatments that derive from a unique collaboration between the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, patients, researchers and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Innovative public- and private-sector partnerships are a winning combination for patients like Bill, and so many others across the country.

Private-sector innovation, a vital part of the research ecosystem, has the potential to thrive when it is unencumbered. The President’s proposal accompanying the SOTU also mentions fixing our nation’s broken tax code to support innovation and good jobs. It is my hope that this signifies support for enhancing the R&D tax credit and making it permanent. Research, both publicly and privately funded, not only drives toward cures, but toward economic growth. We urge Congress to step up and commit, in bipartisan unity, to assuring that the engines of research and innovation are fully fueled in the years ahead. Americans expect nothing less.


Mary Woolley

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