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Federally-funded research across the continuum works against heart disease

“Today we’re focusing on public enemy number one: heart disease,” Dr. Lisa Simpson said in her opening remarks. Dr. Simpson, the president and CEO of AcademyHealth, moderated the briefing “From Discovery to Delivery: Research at Work Against Heart Disease” co-hosted by Research!America, The American Heart Association, and WomenHeart on Tuesday, April 28.

Denise Sullivan, a WomanHeart Champion and heart disease survivor, shared her story and family history battling heart disease. Denise started the series of four presentations with personal anecdotes and shared the losses that her family has felt due to heart disease, bringing an emotional aspect that is often lacking from data and research.

“Statistics are the faces of people with the tears wiped away. Let’s not forget that those data are about individual lives and experiences,” implored Dr. Simpson.

Denise hopes that by sharing her story, more individuals will recognize the importance of investing in health and medical research so that her grandchildren might be able to stand in a briefing someday and say we’ve overcome the battle against heart disease.

The briefing focused on the continuum of research: from basic research, to clinical research, to population-based research and health services research.

“Imagine a world where we are all able to reduce the burden of heart disease; where we can deliver personalized medicine and at the right time to make a difference. This new world is not a fantasy, [and] not an easy attainable reality. What it requires is a research continuum,” said Dr. Shobha Ghosh.

Dr. Ghosh, a researcher and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, discussed her experience in basic research. Basic research relies heavily on NIH funding because they are long-term projects, and do not always result in commercially viable products. Dr. Ghosh shared that her lab’s genetic research process has taken 20 years to identify one genetic component of heart disease. Her lab continues to investigate how to use genetic research to assist in developing new technologies to remove existing plaque in the heart.    

The next step in the continuum is clinical research and drug development. Dr. Andrew Zalewski, the Vice-President and Head of Unit Physician in the cardiometabolic therapy area at GlaxoSmithKline, elaborated on how clinical research relies on basic research to move forward.

“Drugs not only have to be safe, but the level of efficacy must also be high because otherwise society is not willing to invest in the medications…Only one out of 10 new molecules that enter human clinical trials will result in approval in the end. The process [can take] seven to 14 years…and it’s a very costly process,” explained Dr. Zalewski.

Many clinical trials are global trials involving tens of thousands of patients. Dr. Zalewski implored researchers and policymakers to think about how this research process can be streamlined. Investment in precision medicine, improving the clinical trial process, and promoting electronic health records were all mentioned by Dr. Zalewski as important steps to support the success of the research continuum. 

“My objective is really to help you understand how health services research is in the chain from basic research to the delivery of care in the community,” opened Dr. Harry Selker, Dean of Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Tufts University.

Dr. Selker presented technologies that have assisted doctors in hospitals to ensure that patients with cardiovascular issues are treated promptly and efficiently.

New technologies can provide a probability of a medical diagnosis or outcome that can help doctors make a better and more educated decision. Health services research also requires clinical trials to ensure that new technologies are accurate and effective in real-life situations.

“I think everyone can agree we don’t want to bring medicines to treatment slower…Current versions [of 21st Century Cures] has no budgetary piece, so either it’s taken away from other important things, or do what you ought to do and make sure it’s funded appropriately,” Dr. Selker commented. “Bringing medicine to treatment requires doing the research that actually develops those treatments. As you probably know, 10 percent of grants brought to NIH are funded…We’re just so far off the curve of properly taking advantage of these opportunities for the American public’s health that we have to rethink the entire funding mechanism for research.”


To view photos of the briefing, http://bit.ly/1DKtByV.

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