Category Archives: Bridging the Sciences

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Breakthrough year?

Dear Research Advocate:

During his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama acknowledged the important role federally funded research plays in maintaining our global competitive edge and referenced the harm done to basic science by sequestration. Using the example of vaccines, he highlighted the importance of applied research, not only for our health but for the strength of our economy. See my statement about the address here. For the president to succeed in achieving a “breakthrough year for America” — a theme in his address that he is repeating in appearances across the nation — we urge him to put science and innovation at the forefront. I emphasized this in a letter we sent to him today.

During the State of the Union Congressional Debrief sponsored by The Atlantic and National Journal, I asked Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO-01) whether Congress would work with the president to undo the damage done to basic research. She said that she and others are working in a bipartisan way to assure that “America is the top nation for research in the world.” In an effort to combat the underfunding and underappreciation for federally funded science, our award-winning voter education initiative is launching shortly —  “Ask Your Candidates! Is Medical Progress a Priority?” It is critical that we all ask congressional candidates their views about assuring medical progress. I encourage you to participate in this important campaign as we enter the primary and then general election season.

Last week, the attention of the business community and other leaders was trained on Davos, Switzerland. Comments by Harvard economist Larry Summers at the World Economic Forum put U.S. underinvestment in medical progress into context. It’s a message worth repeating. “We are spending 25 [percent] less on research in the life sciences than we were five years ago. That is a deficit with huge human consequences. We have to move on from viewing deficits in terms of financial debt and focus on the deficits we are bequeathing to our children.”

Please join me in extending hearty congratulations to Research!America Chair and former Congressman John Edward Porter, who will receive the National Academy of Sciences’ most prestigious award, the Public Welfare Medal, at a ceremony this spring. This award, rarely given to a non-scientist, recognizes John for decades of advocacy on behalf of medical research and salutes his many accomplishments, including leadership in the Congress for medical and all scientific research, resulting in increased federal support of our nation’s science agencies.  He continues his leadership for science today!

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

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Research!America Chair John Porter to Receive National Academy of Sciences’ Public Welfare Medal

John Edward PorterResearch!America’s chair, The Honorable John Edward Porter, has been named the 2014 winner of the Public Welfare Medal, given by the National Academy of Sciences. The award recognizes Porter’s decades of advocacy on behalf of scientific and medical research.

Established in 1914, the Public Welfare Medal is the most prestigious award given by the Academy.

“John Porter’s amazing ability to excite policy makers and the public about the great promise of science and medicine is directly responsible for the support of numerous research projects that are advancing biomedical science and enabling treatment of devastating illnesses,” said National Academy of Sciences President Ralph J. Cicerone, PhD. “We are pleased that he will accept our highest award.”

The Public Welfare Medal will be presented to Porter on April 27 during the Academy’s 151st annual meeting at the National Academy of Sciences Building, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC. More information, including a list of past recipients, is available at www.nasonline.org/public-welfare-medal.

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Call in Friday morning to help change the national conversation

Dear Research Advocate:

Research!America, in partnership with the American Society of Hematology, released a new poll on Tuesday, revealing strong feelings about the consequences of recent fiscal debacles. A majority (57%) of Americans, across party lines, believe that the government shutdown in October caused significant harm to programs like medical research, defense and education, programs that Americans value. It is not difficult to connect the dots between fiscal dysfunction and the future of our nation: More Americans than ever believe that our nation’s global leadership in science, technology and research will soon be a thing of the past,with 73% saying we will lose global leadership by 2020 — just six years from now. A plurality says China will surpass us by then. This perception is not far off base. China and other countries, including most recently Mexico, are making major commitments to their research and innovation infrastructure. They are determined to drive their economy and contribute to health and prosperity by following what was for years the leadership example set by the U.S.

Last month, following President Enrique Peña Nieto’s leadership, the Mexican Congress increased the budget for the primary national science and technology agency by 20% for 2014 and increased the nation’s overall science budget by 12%. Battelle predicts that China’s dramatic increases in federal research spending have positioned the nation to overtake the U.S. in total R&D investment within a few short years. It’s high time we match the bold visions of Mexico, China and many other nations. Continue reading →

Opinion: Who We Work For

Op-ed by Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley published in The Scientist.

On winning hearts, minds, and votes for science

mary-woolley-webIn chartering the National Academy of Sciences 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln had the wisdom to establish a body that would provide scientific advice to the nation. Lincoln also had the wisdom to know that science doesn’t advance in a vacuum; he knew that there are political frames for science, which must serve—and be perceived to serve—the public’s interest. “Public sentiment is everything,” he said in 1858. “Without it, nothing can succeed; with it, nothing can fail.”

Public opinion polls document strong support for scientific research, including for basic research, but few Americans can name a living scientist or a place where research is conducted. Researchers, with careers on the line, can and must do a better job of articulating the value of science, because the virtual invisibility of our enterprise is not destined to activate general sentiment in our favor.

It’s tempting to think that biomedical science has “won” the hearts of the public, but that would be wrong. To say we have won the hearts of the public would be to imply that we have worked at it. In fact, researchers rarely work to win the hearts and minds of the public, rarely demonstrate accountability to the public in ways non-scientists can understand, and rarely talk about how science affects the quality of life of all Americans. To the contrary, researchers rely too much on the assumption of unspoken alignment, and—what’s worse—when questions arise, are quick to marginalize and malign those who don’t immediately agree. And even if we stipulate that we have mostly “won the hearts” of the public, it’s pretty clear that we haven’t won the minds of those who are making decisions about the future of the scientific enterprise in this country. And win votes we must if we are to assure that American preeminence in science continues. The challenge of winning hearts, minds, and votes is a collective task, and it is high time we embrace it. Continue reading →

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Risky business

Dear Research Advocate:

What does the current political impasse in Washington have in common with deadly or disabling diseases? They will not cure themselves, and the harm escalates until the “patient” gets expert treatment. There is no place for miracle cures or wishful thinking. The solution isn’t what a given individual or party wants it to be, it’s what solves the problem. Right now, it’s by no means clear what or who will solve the problems — which now include the debt ceiling as well as the lack of funding to run the government. Fasten your seat belts for more turbulence between now and October 17th.

You may have heard that the House passed a bill yesterday to fund NIH, along with several other stand-alone appropriation bills (funding it at an unacceptably low level, I might add — below FY12 levels). Beyond the fact that this piecemeal, slow-walking avoidance tactic of finding a solution to the government shutdown is dead on arrival in the Senate and the White House, this “Sophie’s Choice,” cherry-picking approach to better health has no place in a functioning research and innovation ecosystem, and we spoke out against it. That said, it was gratifying that NIH was singled out as publicly popular and good to see the possibility of new champions emerging who recognize the importance of NIH funding during the floor debate on the bill. But make no mistake, had we and other advocates supported this ill-conceived measure, we would have been supporting the decline of science in this nation. Continue reading →

Highlights of the 2013 National Health Research Forum

Research!America’s National Health Research Forum — held September 12 at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center in Washington, DC — examined the current and future state of research to improve health. This year’s theme was “Straight Talk about the Future of Medical and Health Research.” Three expert panels delved into different aspects of the research ecosystem.

_DSC5052Reseach Amercia NatHealth Research Forum 9.12.13 BarrettResearch!America’s president and CEO, Mary Woolley, and chair, The Honorable John Edward Porter, opened the program. Porter introduced Bart Peterson, JD, senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications at Lilly who delivered a brief keynote speech.

“We developed an innovation ecosystem, and that ecosystem requires sound public policy. From the private sector perspective, that includes solid intellectual property protection; a fair, rigorous, transparent regulatory system; a market system of health care delivery and pricing that offers choice for patients and health care providers,” Peterson said. “But the public sector has a role far beyond just producing sound public policy … Public funding for research, which is so threatened today, is absolutely critical to the future and we care about that as much from the private sector perspective as anybody else does.”

R!A 2013 Forum

The first panel, focusing on biomedical research and development, was moderated by journalist Eleanor Clift of Newsweek and the Daily Beast and featured John Crowley, president and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics and a patient advocate; William Hait, MD, PhD, global head of R&D at Janssen Pharmaceuticals; Margaret Hamburg, MD, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and Peterson. The discussion centered on innovation within the pharmaceutical industry and the relationship between companies and regulators. Continue reading →

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Special early short edition this week

Dear Research Advocate:

I am sending out my letter early this week so that you can plan now, if you are not able to be with us in person tomorrow in Washington, to join us electronically for our National Health Research Forum. With the theme of “Straight Talk,” our first-rate panelists will speak candidly about where our medical and health ecosystem is headed today — what the possibilities are, if we give research and innovation every chance to succeed — and what the policy and funding challenges are as we go forward. We thank Lilly, our lead sponsor; all our additional sponsors; and WebMD for live-streaming the event on their website at www.webmd.com/researchforum.

On the funding front, Congress may soon consider a simple, short-term continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government at levels slightly lower than the current FY13 level (that means including the sequestration hit), lasting until mid-December. There are no riders or mandates that affect NIH — or any other agency for that matter. In the end, it’s likely that this CR will pass both chambers. But the fight to end sequestration continues, and an action opportunity may present itself with discussions spurred by the debt limit. We are planning our advocacy accordingly and will keep you in the loop.

Finally, I’d like to extend warm congratulations to the 2013 Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation award winners. These impressive scientists and philanthropists have worked tirelessly to advance basic and clinical medical research and ensure that research reaches those in need. These prestigious awards are well-deserved.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

2013 Lasker Awards Announced

The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation has announced the winners of its 2013 Awards:

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  • Richard H. Scheller (Genentech) and Thomas C. Südhof (Stanford University School of Medicine) will receive the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for discoveries concerning rapid release of neurotransmitters, a process key to the way our brain cells communicate.
  •  Graeme M. Clark (emeritus at University of Melbourne, Australia), Ingeborg Hochmair (MED-El, Innsbruck, Australia) and Blake S. Wilson (Duke University) will receive the Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for the development of the modern cochlear implant — a device that allows the profoundly deaf to hear.
  •  Bill Gates and Melinda Gates will receive the Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award for inspiring philanthropy addressing the most pressing global health concerns. Continue reading →

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: A “dark future for science?”

Dear Research Advocate:

Although Congress officially returns next week, many Members are back in Washington as the debate about the crisis in Syria commands center stage. Members also face looming fiscal deadlines, with only nine legislative days scheduled in September to act on those and a large backlog of other legislation. Given all this, it is not hard to predict how Congress will handle the long- or short-term budget resolutions, debt ceiling, the future of sequestration, tax and entitlement reform, and a myriad of other interconnected items: They will put off decision-making.

Thus a continuing resolution (“CR”), extending FY13 budgets, looks likely, once again kicking the can down the road and, in doing so, kicking patients and researchers alike into the ditch. And things will be worse than the terrible FY13 numbers, given that the Budget Control Act mandates less discretionary spending in FY14 than in FY13 — almost certainly prompting agencies to further decrease their spending while waiting for what might well be a still-lower final appropriations bill (more details here.)

This adds up to “a dark future for science” according to NIH Director Francis Collins. He and other leaders of science believe that the nation is increasingly underprepared to meet existing — not to mention emerging — health threats. Now is the time to hold Congress accountable for avoiding a dark future by making your voice heard. Click here to send a message to your representatives that medical research at NIH, CDC and our other health research agencies must be championed in the upcoming fiscal debates — not cut, not put on hold, but prioritized, championed. After participating online, magnify your voice as a broad coalition joins forces on September 18 to participate in the American Association for Cancer Research’s Hill Day, urging Congress to champion the National Institutes of Health. Continue reading →

John Eng Named Second Golden Goose Award Recipient for 2013

John Eng, MD, was recently named as the latest winner of the Golden Goose Awards. Eng is the second winner announced in 2013, and others will be named in the coming weeks. The Golden Goose Award was created last year to celebrate researchers whose seemingly odd or obscure federally funded research turned out to have a significant, positive impact on society.

Eng, a one-time researcher with the Veterans Administration in New York City, discovered that the venom contained in the bite of a Gila monster — a lizard native to the southwest U.S. and northwest Mexico — had components that could aid diabetics. His research was funded by the VA and built on previous studies funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Soon after, Eng purchased a booth at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association, a Research!America member, touting his discovery. He caught the attention of a then-small biotech, Amylin Pharmaceuticals. Amylin developed the discovery into a drug that won approval from the Food and Drug Administration in 2005. Since then, the drug — Byetta — has proven effective at helping diabetics moderate their blood sugar. Continue reading →

NIH and Lacks Family Reach Agreement on Controlled Access to Data

After more than four months of discussions, the National Institutes of Health and the family of Henrietta Lacks have reached a mutual agreement that will serve to both advance medical research and protect Lacks’ descendants.

In 1951, Lacks died of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Before her death, doctors removed some of her tumor cells. And something amazing happened. Her cells had a property not seen before: They could grow in a lab. Those cells, now called HeLa cell, were everlasting.

“We have agreed that NIH-supported researchers will deposit any DNA sequences derived from HeLa cells into NIH’s dbGAP database, and have established a process through which researchers can request controlled access to that data. Such requests will be reviewed by a working group consisting of physicians, scientists, a bioethicist and two members of the Lacks family,” said Francis Collins, MD, PhD, NIH director.

The HeLa cells have been the subject of more than 74,000 studies; they have served as the foundation for developing vaccines and provided insights into cell biology, in vitro fertilization and cancer.

Research Matters Communications Workshop, October 9

Promoting Basic Research in a New Age of Communications: Challenges and Opportunities

REGISTER HERE.

Scientists, journalists and policy makers. What do they all have in common? They all are trained (in very different ways) to ask the hard questions while serving the public interest. Often the lines of communications between these three professions are weak or, sometimes, non-existent. A greater understanding between them is needed to demonstrate the value and the return on investment of basic biomedical research.

On October 9, 2013, join Research!America, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Elsevier, The George Washington University and the Society for Neuroscience for a workshop designed to enhance the ability of early-career scientists to effectively communicate their research to various audiences and become stronger advocates.

Plenary session speaker:

  • Christie Nicholson, lecturer at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.

Moderators:

  • Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University
  • Debra Lappin, JD, principal, FaegreBD Consulting and Research!America Board member

Panelists:

  • Cara Altimus, PhD, executive board member, Johns Hopkins Postdoc Association
  • Nick Bath, JD, senior health policy advisor, Senate HELP Committee
  • Patrick Carroll, legislative director, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS)
  • Susan Heavey, health correspondent, Reuters
  • Patricia Knight, founder, Knight Capitol Consultants, LLC; former chief of staff, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Jonathan Moreno, PhD, editor-in-chief, Science Progress blog; senior fellow, Center for American Progress
  • Nancy Shute, health and medicine reporter, NPR
  • Dan Smith, JD, principal, The Sheridan Group; founder and former president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network

The program includes a plenary session by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University; two panel discussions with leaders in science, health communications, journalism, public health and public policy; and a session with top Elsevier editors on techniques for getting published in scientific journals.

Register for half off the admission price now through Friday, September 27: $37.50 for participants affiliated with Research!America members and $75 for participants not affiliated with Research!America members. (If you’ve already registered, we will offer a partial refund.)

Registration deadline has been extended to Friday, September 27.

For more information, visit www.researchamerica.org/communicationsworkshop

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A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Uncertainty calls out for advocacy

Dear Research Advocate:

Budget Uncertainty Deepens
The House Appropriations Committee has postponed this week’s scheduled consideration of the Labor-Health and Human Services (Labor-H) funding measure. A New York Times article indicated that the bill protects NIH funding; but, given how low the overall spending number is for Labor-H, “protected” is most likely interpreted as the NIH being cut less than other agencies, themselves highly valued. The distance between the Senate (passed) and House (estimated) Labor-H appropriations — in excess of 20% — sets the stage for another continuing resolution (CR). What actually does happen next is uncertain, which is why advocacy is essential.

The Devil’s in the Details
There are so many health priorities on the line in the not-yet-official House Labor-H bill. Perennial threats are back on the table, including wholly unjustifiable underfunding of CDC, the elimination of AHRQ and PCORI, a prohibition on funding for health economics research at NIH, and more micromanagement of the NIH as well. If any or all of these issues strikes a chord with you, let us help you write a letter to your representative asking them to represent your views in Congress. Email info@researchamerica.org — one of us will get right back to you. Continue reading →

Cuts to NIH research squeezes young scientists out

Op-ed by Abigail Schindler, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and co-leader of the Seattle Forum on Science Ethics and Policy published in The Seattle Times.

Abigail1When I think about not being a scientist anymore my heart hurts. But sadly, due to continued budget cuts to biomedical research, within the next few years that is most likely exactly what I will be — no longer a scientist, no longer a researcher searching for cures for disease.

And I am not alone. The number of young scientists being forced out of basic biomedical research in the United States is increasing at an alarming rate, and when this next generation of scientists leaves, it is not coming back.

Like me, these are early career scientists trained in the United States by U.S. tax dollars. We are scientists whose life goal has been to one day have our own research program at an academic institution committed to the search for breakthroughs and cures. Yet because of these budget cuts, catchphrases such as the “brain drain” are proving true. This is a bad omen for U.S. global leadership in biomedical research and the future health and wellness of our nation.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the nation’s premier biomedical research agency and the leading supporter of biomedical research in the world. Despite numerous public polls showing strong support among Americans for government funding of basic biomedical research, NIH’s budget was cut by $1.5 billion this year, or 5 percent, from $31 billion. Continue reading →

The Science Policy Group at the University of California, San Francisco

By Dai Horiuchi, PhD and Bradley Webb, PhD, co-leaders of the Science Advocacy Subgroup and organizing members of the Science Policy Group at the  University of California, San Francisco (a Research!America member).

UCSFFBThe Science Policy Group (SPG) at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is determined to take advantage of this crisis situation brought about by the sequester to speak up for the future of academic biomedical science in America.  We’re composed of a dedicated group of life sciences graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. Our primary mission is to educate ourselves as well as the general public about policy issues and to take actions for the advancement of science and human health.  The SPG is composed of five subgroups; Science Advocacy, Science Education, Science Outreach, Science Reform, and Health Care Reform. The Advocacy Subgroup was formed in response to the sequester, the across-the-board budget cut, which has significantly decreased scientific funding since it went into effect earlier this year. It appeared that only those PIs and postdoctoral scholars whose federal grant applications (i.e. RO1s, K-awards, etc) were under consideration were aware of the potential consequences of the sequester. However, a majority of trainees had no knowledge of what the sequester entailed. It was not until grant applicants were unusually delayed and an abnormal number of grants, scholarships and fellowships were denied funding that people started paying attention. Continue reading →