A Weekly Advocacy Message From Mary Woolley: Champions for Research and Innovation

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate: 
   
Vice President Joe Biden continued the drumbeat for the Cancer Moonshot with a visit to Research!America member Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday. He spoke about the critical importance of the private sector in the discovery, development, delivery ecosystem. Indeed, from public-private partnerships to philanthropic donations, the private sector is an essential partner in the fight against deadly and debilitating diseases. Demonstrating both this point and his personal commitment to research, former New York Mayor --and Research!America Advocacy Award recipient-- Michael Bloomberg joined Sidney Kimmel and others in announcing a $125 million donation to create the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Bravo and thank you, on behalf of every patient and every family challenged by cancer.
 
On the topic of public-private partnerships, an issue has re-emerged that could affect the environment for these partnerships going forward. Several members of Congress have been pressing HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., to exercise the “march-in” provisions of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act as a means of bringing drug prices down. Long story short, under certain circumstances these provisions give the federal government the right to suspend patent protections for products that were developed in part with federal dollars.  One such circumstance is if government finds that the patent holder is not exercising the patent in a manner that meets “health or safety needs.”
 
No one who cares about patients or the fiscal future of our nation should ignore spiraling healthcare costs. But to my way of thinking, it simply makes no sense to entangle NIH in the healthcare pricing issue or for that matter, to consider drug costs in a vacuum when healthcare is far more complex than that. When the agency has been petitioned in the past to exercise the march-in provisions because of price, it has not found cause to do so; still, it seems that every few years NIH is called upon to cover essentially the same ground when another price-related Bayh-Dole petition is filed.  Hopefully, Congress will ultimately see fit to clarify the law and take NIH out of the equation altogether. 
 
As you know, the House passed the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6) by a wide bipartisan margin last July 2015. The Senate HELP Committee has considered two tranches of related bills with a third and final markup next Wednesday April 6. This is a very good development. It looks like advocacy is working-- the hard won momentum of last year is continuing and the full Senate may in fact consider a legislative package of innovation and research-related bills. Once the Senate passes legislation on this topic, both chambers can begin to conference a final compromise that will be sent to the president for his signature. Urge your Senators to champion this cause with this easy, editable message-- research is a bipartisan national priority!
 
Speaking of momentum, I have said it before and will say it again: if we want faster medical progress in the future, the time to start cultivating champions is now. Help us convince this year’s candidates to be next year’s champions. Join our voter education initiative, Campaign for Cures.  For more information, contact Thayer Surette at tsurette@researchamerica.org.
 
And speaking of champions, I hope you will consider submitting a nomination (or two!) for our 2017 Advocacy Awards. We know there are many deserving advocates who have not yet been recognized: please tell us about them! Information on the nomination process is available now on our website. For inspiration, videos from this year’s dinner are featured on our YouTube channel.
         
 

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Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.
Abraham Lincoln