A weekly advocacy message from Mary Woolley: Is the “moment” becoming a movement?

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate,

The “moment” for research that we’ve been experiencing on Capitol Hill is being echoed by Presidential candidates; is this perhaps the start of a wave of conversation on the campaign trail?  On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee, which is not the committee of jurisdiction for NIH or FDA, or intellectual property, held a hearing on these very topics. Committee Chairman and Presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX)  framed the hearing as an opportunity to explore strategies for speeding cures to patients.  The hearing might have devolved into an “FDA regulation is bad” fest, and to be honest there was some of that, but the Senators present, along with the witnesses, shared perspectives and insights that struck me as incredibly valuable from an advocacy perspective, e.g.:

  • Chairman Cruz pointed out that we spend trillions of dollars on the “back-end,” pouring money into regaining health when disease or disability compromises it, but we grossly underinvest on the front-end to stop those diseases in their tracks.
  • Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-MI) noted that private sector investment tracks closely to public sector spending - when the government commitment falters, private sector dollars move overseas.
  • Recently retired Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), a physician, asserted the importance of intellectual property strong enough to attract capital to bioscience -- when you know an endeavor is inherently high risk, you need to ensure it is also high reward.  He also challenged Congress to refrain from criticizing FDA for being risk averse while simultaneously attacking them for being risk tolerant.
  • Christopher Frangione, a principal in the X-Prize organization, said that “pull” mechanisms like prizes can be a terrific way to encourage collaboration and incentivize late stage development, but they are not effective for basic, early stage research since the end goal of this research is not the finish line for one solution - instead, it’s a flight path for many.
  • Research!America Board Member and UCSF Vice Chancellor for Research Keith Yamamoto emphasized the need to invest more in basic research to better understand the disease mechanisms. The benefits of this research convey broadly, powering precision medicine and other incredibly promising paths to cures.

As more and more members of Congress -- and candidates! -- talk about research, we can be sure they will be attuned to the importance of meeting taxpayer expectations, not only for finding solutions to what ails us, but also for accountability.  Some key messages in addition to those that came out in Tuesday’s hearing will bear repeating in that regard: medical progress is dynamic, it’s not a money-in-cures-out linear undertaking; weighing both incidence and prevalence, aka “burden of disease,” is important but is not the only determinant of priority-setting; public-private partnerships matter but aren’t one size fits all; and dismissing the value of global health research is a mistake-- as I explain in a just-published comment to Directors Collins’ and Fauci’s editorial, “NIH research: Think globally.

Regarding the Senate HELP Committee’s “Cures” work (the parallel to the House legislation passed last week), Research!America is holding a meeting/conference call for our alliance members this Monday, July 20 at 2:30 p.m. to discuss our respective priorities and brainstorm advocacy strategies.  If you are a Research!America member and would like to participate in person or by phone, e-mail Ellie Dehoney at edehoney@researchamerica.org.  And take a moment to e-mail your reps in the House and Senate to help keep the ball rolling on Cures.

Earlier in this letter I mentioned the importance of intellectual property protection to medical innovation. As the House and Senate continue to deliberate over patent reform, numerous stakeholders, including Research!America and the National Health Council, have weighed in to urge both Houses to refrain from advancing legislation that takes one step forward and two steps back.  Read our respective letters here and here.



Mary Woolley

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If concerted, long-term investments in research are not made, America will lose an entire generation of young scientists.
Brenda Canine, PhD; McLaughlin Research Institute, Montana