Mary Woolley's Weekly Letter: Point to the Victories

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate,

On Tuesday, Research!America sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar asking him to clarify the decision to end NIH grant funding for an ongoing, EcoHealth Alliance research initiative focused on pandemic preparedness. We urge the Secretary to shed needed light on this significant (on many levels) decision.

On Capitol Hill: House Democrats have released a draft emergency spending bill, the HEROES Act. This discussion draft includes $4 billion for the Office of the Director at NIH, of which “not less than $3 billion” would be set aside to help academic institutions absorb COVID-19 related shutdown and start-up costs. (This is $7 billion shy of the recovery costs NIH Director Francis Collins cited in Senate testimony; see more below). For more information, check out our chart outlining funding details

The bill serves as a marker, signaling the beginning of negotiations between Congressional Leadership and the Administration. Our best guess is that a fifth package may not reach the President’s desk until sometime in June. Here’s a chart detailing actual and proposed federal agency funding as of Tuesday of this week.

While AHRQ would not receive supplemental funding under the HEROES Act, new funding would be authorized for the agency going forward. Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that AHRQ is launching a $5 million research initiative for rapid cycle studies evaluating the health system’s response to COVID-19.

In other news, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reportedly favors exempting approximately $11 billion in FY21 Department of Veterans Affairs funding from the budget caps. This could open the door for other critical exemptions like those former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden proposed during a House hearing on May 6, 2020. Dr. Frieden outlined an off-budget, $23 billion Health Defense Operations fund to help assure sufficient public health response and preparedness going forward. The proposal was endorsed by former Congressional leaders and directors of the CDC.

As noted above, during recent Senate testimony on the impact of COVID-19, Dr. Collins estimated that academic research recovery would cost at least $10 billion. Ellie Dehoney, Research!America’s Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, urged Congress to address these costs in the next emergency spending bill. As she said in Bloomberg Law: “(COVID-19) must not be permitted to rob us all of desperately needed medical progress.” We are working with many of our members and partners to assure that the full spectrum of research for health – and indeed, science overall – is not brought to its knees as a result of the pandemic.

Wisdom from a Leader: A true hero, Dr. Louis Sullivan, former HHS Secretary, founder of the Morehouse School of Medicine, and CEO & Chairman of the Sullivan Alliance to Transform the Health Professions joined our member alliance meeting earlier this week. Leading the Department as biomedical researchers fought the HIV/AIDS crisis during the George H.W. Bush presidency, Dr. Sullivan said we must “point to the victories” of research saving and extending the lives of patients in that and other scourges like smallpox and polio.

“Investing in health is an investment in a better future; therefore, the return on that investment is worth it, and we will be better off, and a healthier society for it,” said Dr. Sullivan. If you missed this webinar or want to rewatch, we’ve posted it on our website. Per Dr. Sullivan: “What we [all] need to do is increase the level of [public] knowledge and understanding about science.”  We agree!

Research in Action: The Office of Research and Development at the Department of Veterans Affairs is working with industry and other partners on accelerated, multistate trials as our nation works toward solutions for COVID-19. Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the Deputy Under Secretary for Discovery, Education, and Affiliate Networks at the Veterans Health Administration will be joining us for an alliance member webinar in the next few weeks and will discuss the vital role of the VA during the pandemic and their research in general.

Research!America Alliance Members: Join us next week on Friday, May 22 at 1 p.m. ET for an alliance member webinar with Dr. Victor Dzau, President of the National Academy of Medicine. Dr. Dzau will join us to discuss what COVID-19 means for science going forward. Register in advance to reserve your spot.

We hope you find these alliance member webinars to be of value. Did you miss one or want to revisit? See our COVID-19 resource page for recordings. 

Finally, a shout-out to our friend and advocacy partner, Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, who was named today to succeed Jim Greenwood as CEO of BIO. We salute former Congressman Greenwood on his extraordinary leadership and congratulate Dr. McMurry-Heath and the staff and members of BIO. We look forward to working with you! 

Stay well, stay safe, and stay connected.

Mary Woolley

 

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Without research, there is no hope.
The Honorable Paul G. Rogers