Research!America’s 27th Annual Meeting of Members


Increasing funding for federal health research agencies to respond to health threats, harnessing the power of precision medicine and other cutting-edge research and keeping the needs of the patient front and center, were some of the key points shared by Dr. Robert Califf, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) during Research!America’s 27th Annual Meeting of Members held at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., on March 16. 

“I remain excited about and dedicated to direct involvement with consumers and patients,” said Dr. Califf. He emphasized that the FDA’s mission is not only to protect safety and promote innovation but to enhance collaboration with patients. 

Dr. Califf underscored the role that the FDA plays in responding to public health threats like the Zika virus. “In real time we’re coordinating emergency response but also working very closely with manufacturers and academic centers to develop diagnostic tests, and work closely with the NIH to facilitate the develop of vaccines and treatments which needs to be timed with industry and also with the global environment,” he said. Priorities for the agency according to Dr. Califf include strengthening the workforce, increasing quality of evidence and addressing the opioid epidemic. 

Senator Klobuchar stressed the importance of medical research in fighting disease and its impact on the economy. “The life sciences industry contributes $69 billion to the economy annually and supports more than seven million jobs,” she noted.  

“Research, medical research and medical work has always been a major part of our economic engine. We are a country that makes stuff, invents things, exports to the world and we should have a competitive agenda worthy of that country,” she said. 

The $2 billion increase for the NIH in FY16, the largest funding boost for the agency in over a decade, is a positive development, she added, noting the increased support for research from both sides of the aisle in Congress.

Following Senator Klobuchar’s remarks, ALS Association patient advocate Lorri Carey discussed her challenges living with ALS and the urgency to find a cure. Her sons launched Kids for a Cure to help raise money for ALS research and the Carey family travels to Washington, D.C., every year to “speak up, educate and advocate” for ALS patients and their families. “It’s been rewarding to know that we played a small part in the positive results the ALS Association has seen. It’s encouraging to see advances to better the lives of patients that would lead to a cure,” she said.  

Carey described progress toward the treatment and research of ALS including legislation that ended the 24-month waiting period for ALS patients to receive Medicare benefits, the Department of Defense’s ALS Research Program (ALSRP) which supports high-impact ALS research, an ALS patient registry, and legislation to accelerate the development of treatments and therapies for the disease.  “When ALS hits a family, it hits hard and advocacy is the bottom of the to-do list,” she added. “Our family is grateful that my slow progression has allowed me to play a role in a public policy initiative.”

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco