2022 Advocacy Awards: AN EVENING OF CELEBRATION AND INSPIRATION
Congressman Kweisi Mfume (D-MD) kicked off the 2022 Advocacy Awards (watch the event) with words of praise and admiration for the extraordinary individuals and organizations whose contributions to medical, health, and scientific research would surely “take your breath away,” setting the stage for an evening of inspiration and celebration. Following Mfume’s opening remarks was a joyful performance from the fresh-faced, Young People’s Chorus of New York City. The troupe performed, “Never Give Up,” described by one of the performers as a “song for the scientists, public health care workers, and those who never gave up these past two years [of the pandemic].”
Representing the Corporate Event Host for the 2022 Advocacy Awards, Research!America Board member William Hait, MD, PhD, Executive Vice President and Chief External Innovation, Medical Safety, and Global Public Health Officer at Johnson & Johnson also welcomed attendees and celebrated “the scientists around the globe from government, academia, and industry who collaborated to address our generation’s greatest public health challenge.” He also emphasized that the spectacular effort which led to the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine was a “clarion call to apply the same urgency to other life-devastating diseases.”
The Virtual 2022 Advocacy Awards recognized key congressional champions for medical and public health research and individuals and organizations whose leadership efforts have advanced our nation’s commitment to medical, health, and scientific research and continued the fight against COVID-19. Representatives Diana Degette (D-CO) and Fred Upton (R-MI) introduced the evening’s first award, the Gordon and Llura Gund Leadership Award, which honors individuals who have made a significant contribution to increasing the level of advocacy for health-related research. Award recipient Jed Manocherian, ACT for NIH Chairman and Founder, said regarding increasing NIH funding, “The cost is billions. The return is trillions, and it’s priceless to patients and their families.”
The next segment featured a conversation between Research!America Board member Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD, Associate Professor at Duke University Medical Center, and Neal F. Lane, PhD, Senior Fellow, Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, who received the Herbert Pardes Family Award for National Leadership in Advocacy for Research. Reflecting on the idea of the “citizen scientist” and the role of scientists in society, Dr. Lane said communicating science is the “responsibility of us as scientists and engineers and technical professionals of all kinds… to engage the public, trying to help people understand more about what science is all about.”
On the heels of this great discussion, Mara Hutton, Executive Vice President of the Geoffrey Beene Foundation, shared a dynamic, heartfelt introduction to a conversation between Nobel Prize recipient and former Research!America Legacy Award recipient Harold Varmus, MD, and Geoffrey Beene Foundation Builders of Science Award honoree France A. Córdova, PhD, President of Science Philanthropy Alliance. Remarking on what principles guided her, Dr. Córdova said one of her goals was to “make science come alive, for others, for herself.” As a builder of science, Dr. Córdova also discussed her transformative accomplishment while Chancellor of UC Riverside of establishing a new public medical school that would recruit students from underrepresented groups in order to address the unmet need of providing medical services to underserved communities.
Florence “Pippy” Rogers, Vice Chair of the Alzheimer’s Association Board of Directors, Georgia Chapter, representing the Rogers Family Foundation, introduced the Alliance for Aging Research as the recipient of the Paul G. Rogers Distinguished Organization Advocacy Award. As the number of older Americans continues to increase, the advocacy efforts of the Alliance for Aging Research helps answer a vital question which founder and Board member Dan Perry aptly phrased, “Would these future seniors be seen primarily as just a burden on healthcare? Or would these future citizens be healthy, vital, able to fend for themselves and to contribute to the good will the overall will of the people?” Perry had an engaging conversation with Susan Peschin, MHS, President and CEO of Alliance for Aging Research. Through the award, the Alliance for Aging Research was recognized for its vigorous advocacy for aging research so that all of us can look forward to healthy aging. As part of the segment, staff of the Alliance for Aging Research gave their thoughts on what they enjoyed most about aging.
Following this, world-renowned soprano Renée Fleming – 2020 Isadore Rosenfeld Award for Impact on Public Opinion honoree – introduced a special discussion between Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Kizzmekia S. Corbett, PhD, and Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, acting Science Advisor to the President and recipient of the John Edward Porter Legacy Award. Reflecting on an illustrious career devoted to science, Dr. Corbett asked Dr. Francis about the moments that stay with him. Dr. Collins replied that one of the most memorable moments of recent times was due to COVID-19 in which the “willingness of scientists from every sector in every environment to just drop everything, and jump in to try to see what they could do to save lives was inspiring.”
Dr. Corbett also asked his thoughts on waning trust in science. “We need a deep investigation into how science communication can be more effective in an area where people are intrinsically resistant,” said Dr. Collins, adding,“maybe we are good at quoting statistics and not good enough at telling stories, because people respond to stories.”
Next, Susan Whitehead, Vice Chair of the Whitehead Charitable Foundation, spoke about the award bearing her father’s name, “My father’s passion was to help improve human health. His vision for the future of biomedical research is what drove him to found Research!America and to advocate for increased visibility and funding for the field.” She was followed by Ruth Lehmann, PhD, Director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and Professor of Biology at MIT, who shared her congratulations and recognized Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), co-recipient of the Edwin C. Whitehead Award for Medical Research Advocacy.
Research!America Board member the Honorable Rush Holt, PhD, shared his congratulations and regcognized Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX), co-recipient of the Edwin C. Whitehead Award for Medical Research Advocacy. The award recognizes the Congresswomen them for their efforts in making research funding a national priority.
In her acceptance speech, Rep. Granger reminded us, “we must never become complacent in our efforts to find more lifesaving cures and groundbreaking treatments.”
Rep. DeLauro was unfortunately diagnosed with COVID-19 and unable to participate firsthand in the Awards, but her Legislative Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor Caitlin Peruccio delivered her prepared remarks, where she shared: “I do not take this as a reward for what I have done; I take this as a call to continue fighting to help make a difference in the lives of families across our country.”
Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) joined to add his congratulations to his colleagues Reps. DeLauro and Granger, saying, “Both of these individuals… have been leaders in crafting the hard and tough deals that actually advance the country forward and make sure that we continue – even in difficult times – to make a steady, above inflation increases in appropriations for the critical elements of biomedical research.
Stephen Rosenfeld, MD, Executive Director of North Star Review Board, and President of the Rosenfeld Heart Foundation, introduced the next award, the Isadore Rosenfeld Award for Impact on Public Opinion, named for his father. As he noted, “one of the things we’ve learned from politics and from the pandemic is that storytelling is a two-edged sword. Scientists have been urged to use storytelling to engage the public. But the power and promise of science is that it is more than storytelling. It is storytelling that is grounded in tested experience.”
Research!America Chair Susan Dentzer next sat down for a virtual conversation with Isadore Rosenfeld Award for Impact on Public Opinion honoree Walter Isaacson, author and professor at Tulane University. When asked how his recent book, “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race,” illustrated the need for long-term science funding, Isaacson replied that utility does not drive basic science, but rather “curiosity was the most important trait of a scientist and that you test your theories based on evidence.”
Mary Woolley then welcomed Joaquin Duato, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, who introduced a suite of awards, the Outstanding Achievement in Public Health Awards, generously supported by Johnson & Johnson. “At Johnson & Johnson we are committed to tackle the world’s toughest healthcare challenges, this work cannot be done alone, and therefore collaboration is always essential,” Duato said. “This year’s honorees are addressing some of the greatest health challenges of our time: smoking cessation, diversity in clinical trials, and fueling collaborations to advance solutions for COVID-19.“ Research!America is grateful to Johnson & Johnson for endowing the suite of Outstanding Achievement in Public Health Awards.
Next, Research!America Board Member Jessica L. Mega, MD, MPH, Co-Founder and Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of Verily, introduced two of the honorees of the Outstanding Achievement in Public Health Award: Matthew Myers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and Bill Novelli, founder and chair, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, professor and founder, Business for Impact, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University.
Research!America Board Member Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association, led a candid discussion with Myers and Novelli about their journey into public health and the impacts they have made in their roles. Novelli and Myers gave advice, based on their extensive experience, citing the importance of effective collaborations, and including the public in policymaking.
Novelli went on to share his thoughts on effecting change in the public and policy arenas by detailing the need to work across sectors—”from top down, bottom up.” Myers highlighted the need step back and recognize successes by stating, “I think one of the most important lessons is the ability to step back periodically. The work we all do on a day-to-day basis is really hard… when you take a step back, you realize the change you’ve made.”
Following the discussion with Dr. Benjamin, Myers, and Novelli, Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association and a Research!America board member, presented transformational leader Vivian Pinn, MD, Inaugural Director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at NIH, with the Outstanding Achievement in Public Health Award. During their discussion, Dr. Pinn shared that one of the proudest moments of her career is witnessing the change of research design at NIH, which now includes both men and women in research studies, while also giving attention to sex and gender factors. She also expressed fulfillment in seeing the achievements of former students and mentees.
Dr. Pinn went on to give advice to young women who are considering pursuing careers in science and research and encouraged them to look to their role models. She called on leaders in the field to ensure doors remained open for women to have a seat at the table and have a voice in decision making.
Afterward, retired Senator Barbara Mikulski shared a few words in celebration of Dr. Pinn and her accomplishments. Senator Mikulski stated, “Dr. Pinn is a national treasure… She’s been a driving force in America’s approach to women’s health and women’s wellbeing. She has been instrumental in developing a pipeline for women to enter and succeed in careers in science and medicine, transforming the face of these fields—fighting to ensure they represent the population and patients they serve. Dr. Pinn is a trailblazer whose forward thinking and forward looking approach to the nation’s public health has helped save lives.”
Next, Seema Kumar, PhD, Global Head of the Office of Innovation, Global Health, and Scientific Engagement at Johnson & Johnson, presented the Rapid Translation Award to Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines, or ACTIV, for their effective public-private partnership with NIH in making vital contributions to progressing public health.
Inaugural co-chairs of ACTIV, Dr. Collins and Paul Stoffels, MD, incoming CEO of Galapagos, gave viewers a brief inside look at the conception of ACTIV. Drs. Collins and Stoffels discussed how several organizations, including NIH, FDA, academic institutions, and many others from around the world, were open to quickly collaborate and be transparent about studies and data sharing. Dr. Stoffels noted, “The data, transparency, sharing data, everything was like how you couldn’t have hoped for a better type of collaboration between all the parties.”
Dr. Collins posed the question, “Based on this experience… Are there things we should be thinking about as far as preparing if some future viral pathogen suddenly emerges?” In response, Stoffels cited the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He mentioned, “We need to advance science faster on a global scale, monitor and make more interventions, and study more viruses so that we are much better prepared. We must keep part of the infrastructure in place, which we have now to combat pandemics, so that next time we can do it fast and efficiently.” Dr. Collins drew a parallel between pandemic response and medical interventions by mentioning how partnerships can also accelerate the production of much needed medicines.
Dr. Stoffels closed the segment by saying, “It is important that partnerships continue to drive science, translating science to human impact. I think that’s what partnerships are about.”
The Honorable Charlie Dent, executive director and vice president of The Aspen Institute, and a Research!America Board member, introduced the recipients of the final two awards of the program. Christopher Murray, MD, DPhil, professor and chair of health metrics sciences and director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, received the Building the Foundation Award for his work in leveraging research to maximize quality, efficiency, and reach of healthcare systems. Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, received the Meeting the Moment for Public Health Award for his work on the frontlines of COVID-19 response, serving as a trusted voice for the public as well as for policymakers and other leaders at all levels.
Internationally known journalist Judy Woodruff, anchor and managing editor of PBS NewsHour, led a discussion with Drs. Murray and Jha. In the conversation, Dr. Jha noted, “it became very clear to me early in the pandemic … that people didn’t understand the moment we were in, didn’t know how to engage, and what they should be doing differently. And that explaining the pandemic to the public was a key feature of our public response – every bit as important as getting tests and vaccines and therapies.” And later, “I think we have underemphasized the importance of effective, consistent communication… and [have learned] the cost of when we don’t do it effectively.”
Responding to a question about lessons learned in the pandemic, Dr. Murray shared, “When you look at the data, only one thing predicted people and countries’ ability to respond well, and that was trust in government and trust in each other. And that’s a pretty humbling lesson to learn… we all thought it was about laboratory capacity and responses and, you know, the scientific community, and it turned out those haven’t been the key drivers of success.”
Mary Woolley closed out the 2022 Advocacy Awards with praise and thanks, first to sponsors and benefactors, and finally to honorees, special guests, Board members, alliance members, Research!America staff, and everyone watching the event.
Thank you, and we hope you will join us again next year!
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN PUBLIC HEALTH AWARDS, GENEROUSLY SUPPORTED BY JOHNSON & JOHNSON
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