A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: The Best of What we Have Been, and Must Continue to be, as a Nation

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate:

Three outstanding speakers addressed Research!America’s annual meeting of members yesterday.  Newly confirmed FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf kicked off the meeting, outlining his priorities for the agency. Having known Dr. Califf for some time, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear how determined he is to ensuring FDA engages the patient perspective as it works to improve policies and processes.  For example, he underscored how important it is to calibrate risk/benefit calculations to take into account the seriousness of an illness and the availability of treatment options...in other words, how important it is to think like a patient, not for a patient.  Bravo!

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who played an important role in securing a two-year suspension of the medical device tax, discussed her reasons for getting involved in politics and research advocacy, and emphasized the importance of the role Congress can and must play in advancing research this year. Finally, Lorri Carey, a remarkable patient advocate living with ALS, shared her journey and that of her family - her two sons have been active advocates since their mom’s diagnosis when they were 11 and 13 respectively.  Also at our annual meeting we welcomed new board members Gary Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society, and Dr. Harold Paz, Aetna’s Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer.

Our 20th annual Advocacy Awards Dinner last night showcased the commitment and impact of remarkable champions for science and medical progress before an audience of nearly 450 guests. Senate and House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairmen Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Tom Cole (R-OK-04); Lisa Paulsen and the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF); Dr. Robert Langer; Dr. Ron Petersen on behalf of Mayo Clinic CEO Dr.John Noseworthy; Trish and George Vradenburg; and The ALS Association were honored not only for what they have accomplished to date, but for their ongoing commitment to research and to advocacy for research. All of us draw from their strength. See a recap and watch that site for further highlights! 

Dr. Harold Varmus received the Legacy award for his lifetime commitment to advancing research.  In the 20 years we have hosted advocacy awards evenings, this is only the 4th time we have bestowed the Legacy Award.  I hope you will take a moment to consider the timely challenge Dr. Varmus delivered to us all via his acceptance remarks, in which he refers to science as representing the best of what we have been and must continue to be as a nation. 

Yesterday on Capitol Hill the House Labor-H Subcommittee held a hearing on NIH appropriations for FY17.  Whitehead Award recipient Chairman Cole, Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03), and other subcommittee members expressed their disappointment with the President’s budget request, which relies on mandatory funds to backfill cuts in discretionary funding.  Chairman Cole was adamant that NIH would not see any cuts in its budget. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins made a compelling case for the value of NIH dollars, naming areas of science he believes hold potential for breakthrough progress...if we put resources behind research. In case you missed it, read Dr. Collins’ written testimony. The House Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee also held an FY17 hearing yesterday -- NSF Director Dr. France Córdova testified about a wide range of NSF priorities including the importance of basic science; STEM education; workforce development; and a science-driven, balanced research portfolio, including concerns around congress making funding decisions at the directorate level.  Read more in Dr. Córdova’s written testimony.
 
Last week, Research!America, AcademyHealth, Celgene, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the American Statistical Association teamed up to hold the second in a series of briefings to showcase the multidisciplinary nature of medical progress. For coverage of the event, please see our blog. Our next Continuum Briefing, on asthma and allergies, will take place mid-May -- more information to come! 

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If concerted, long-term investments in research are not made, America will lose an entire generation of young scientists.
Brenda Canine, PhD; McLaughlin Research Institute, Montana