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Forum Highlights Risks, Rewards, Returns of Research

March 15, 2005

Industry leaders, heads of federal agencies, patient advocates and other stakeholders in research gathered on March 15 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC, for Research!America's Annual Meeting of Members and National Forum, "Research: The Risks, the Rewards and the Returns."

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Panelists were (l-r) Elias Zerhouni, MD; Wendy Chaite, Esq.; Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH; Joseph Feczko, MD; Hon. Deborah Wince-Smith; John M. Leonard, MD; and Ohio Lt. Gov. Bruce Johnson

Ohio Lt. Gov. Bruce Johnson opened the forum with a keynote address about his plan to transform Ohio's struggling manufacturing-based economy to a robust knowledge-based economy through the Third Frontier initiative-a 10-year, $1.1 billion effort to promote research and development and to bring new technologies to the market.

"Since Sir Isaac Newton first got knocked in the head with an apple, science has been fraught with risks," Johnson said. "It is this risk that often causes heartburn when the research community and the public sector come together. There is just something disconcerting about having the words ‘risk' and ‘taxpayer dollars' in the same sentence."

Johnson, who is credited with jump-starting Ohio's economy, acknowledged that there will be some failures with publicly funded efforts. "We in government are too afraid of failure, but we must take more risks in order to succeed," he said.

Judy Woodruff, CNN prime anchor and Research!America board member, served as moderator of the panel discussion portion of the program.

In addressing how advances in technology have shifted the global and U.S. economies to increase productivity, lower costs and compete for talent, panelist Hon. Deborah Wince-Smith, president, Council on Competitiveness, said that "our society has to optimize itself on innovation. It has to be our mantra."

The mantra of the forum, however, was that innovation doesn't come without risk, and success isn't achieved without failure. "There's no guarantee that when you go down a path there will be success at the end of it," said Joseph Feczko, MD, president, Worldwide Development, Pfizer Inc, and chief medical officer, Pfizer. "There is no such thing as a risk-free drug."

John M. Leonard, MD, vice president, global pharmaceutical development, Abbott Laboratories, said that people shouldn't have the false expectation that no risks are attached to a drug. "Risk-benefit analysis is an ongoing process and patients have to report to us when they see problems. There has to be a sense of shared responsibility."

However, according to Wendy Chaite, Esq., president, Lymphatic Research Foundation, and Research!America board secretary, the system of research has put patients on the sidelines when it comes to making decisions about their quality of care or access to prescription drugs. "Human health is about people," she said. "Innovation must include the patient."

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias Zerhouni, MD, agreed that "we cannot advance research without the involvement of the patient community."

Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH, director, Centers for Disease Control, noted that as people's life expectancies increase, their satisfaction with the quality of their health decreases. "This is a disconnect that signals we need to engage people in their health policy decisions."

With the threat of anthrax contamination in the Pentagon's mailroom still a looming possibility that morning, Gerberding added that as the world gets smaller Americans must think beyond domestic health and treating disease to preventing disease and protecting health.

Feczko admitted that while everyone knows preventing disease is cheaper than treating disease, the pharmaceutical industry has not been able to carve out a role in disease prevention.

According to Zerhouni, however, prevention is difficult to invest in because the bulk of knowledge about prevention is still unknown. "More money goes into treating disease than preventing it, which reflects our ignorance about prevention," he said.

"How much of that ignorance is a result of the fact that funding prevention research has not been a priority?" asked Woodruff.

Following the forum, guests attended a luncheon where Lester Crawford, DVM, PhD, acting commissioner, Food and Drug Administration, expanded on the panel dialogue regarding funding challenges within federal research and science agencies. He said, however, that he is confident "funding from the government will come because support from the medical community is palpable."

Read the transcripts from the National Forum keynote presentation and panel session.