A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Sequencing, Sequestration and Sputnik


Dear Research Advocate,

What do sequencing and sequestration have in common, besides being mysterious words to most people? It’€™s pretty simple: We won’€™t have more of the former if the latter takes place. Why isn’€™t it a Sputnik moment to learn that there is more sequencing capacity at Beijing Genome Institute than we have total capacity in our country? And, to learn that the Chinese government is subsidizing the cost of sequencing so that it is fast becoming the go-to place for industry and academia worldwide? It’€™s time for advocates to talk this up so that policy makers will once again plus-up research as a U.S. priority.

Jeffrey Zients, the Acting Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, is among those (few, to date) talking about the damaging consequences of sequestration. His op-ed in Politico calls on Congress to stop sequestration’€™s automatic spending cuts ’€“ never really meant to happen but now a very real possibility ’€“ pointing out what is at stake: ’€œResearch and development, critical to our long-term economic growth, would also be undermined ’€¦’€ The day after this article hit the papers, The Boston Globe published a piece detailing the potential impact of the sequester on health research, citing Research!America’€™s report on the topic. You, too, can and should spread the alarm about sequestration before the unintended scenario becomes the reality that some have estimated will result in a 41% decline in NIH purchasing power since 2004 ’€“ and will continue to drive industry to shutter R&D in this country, with losses for jobs, new business development and, ultimately, losses for patients.

Sometimes critics of research expenditures ’€“ whether taxpayers and their representatives or business investors ’€“ criticize the time lag before research pays off. There are plenty of ways to push back on that skepticism, including exciting advances covered in front-page stories this week, all authored by Gina Kolata of The New York Times. Today’€™s article featured groundbreaking Alzheimer’€™s research from Research!America member Genentech and other collaborators, which may finally hold the key to developing an effective course of treatment to stave off the disease. A series of Kolata articles earlier in the week showcases exciting and life-saving cancer advances at Washington University and other institutions. The reason these articles are front-page news is that research breakthroughs resonate with Americans. You can make the link about the payoff of investment in research when you engage in conversation about these and other health advances in the news.

Also making headlines was a USA Today feature on Ann Romney’€™s battle with multiple sclerosis and how the struggle has shaped her life. My letter to the editor calls for increasing investment in research and asks candidates to let their views be known on research issues. This is the perfect time to join us in urging the Romney campaign to respond to our Your Candidates ’€“ Your Health questionnaire on medical research issues.

Finally, may I ask for three minutes of your time? This is the 53rd of my weekly letters, which means we’€™ve just passed the one-year mark! Please take a few moments to complete a short questionnaire to help me make these all the more useful to you in the year ahead. Thanks in advance for your feedback.


Mary Woolley

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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