Experts at Forum Urge Congress to Increase Funding

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Experts at Forum Urge Congress to Increase Funding

Janice Lloyd

A distinguished panel of scientists at Research!America’s 2016 National Health Research Forum in Washington, D.C., discussed a wide range of topics Thursday while addressing the need for Congress to make research and innovation a higher national priority and to fund shortages before the United States falls behind globally in research for health.

Keynote speaker William Hait, stressed “biomedical research is in dire need of a substantial transfusion.” In particular, he referred to the ongoing stalemate in Congress over funding to combat Zika. “While we await someone to take action to approve funding, we’re wasting valuable time,’’ said Hait, global head of Janssen Research and Development, LLC, one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.

One potential research area where time might soon be lost is developing a vaccine for Zika, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He left the forum early to appear before the Senate to discuss the work his agency is undertaking without a definite budget.

“Unless we get an appropriation in the next few weeks, I will have to stop the (vaccine) trial, which is unprecedented. The appropriation process isn't working. It is really unconscionable.”

President Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion to fight the mosquito-borne disease, but the measure has been voted down three times. Another vote is expected next week. Both the NIH and the CDC say they are running out of money to fight the virus. Florida Republicans are calling for passage of the measure. Democrats say the measure is tied to the demise of funding for Planned Parenthood.

One way to skirt political issues, Fauci said, would be to create an emergency fund to respond to Zika and other health threats.

In addition to the Zika emergency, panelists stressed the importance of stabilizing funding for biomedical research, which was hard hit by funding cuts during sequestration.

“We have to maintain that strong base of research, high-risk research, that doesn't operate on a calendar the way the federal government does,’’ said Keith Yamamoto, vice dean for research, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. “It (research) has to be sustainable...across the spectrum.”

Fauci, who applauded President Obama’s biomedical initiatives, hopes the next administration can elevate support for research and innovation to a new level of cooperation. None of Obama’s initiatives have received congressional funding.

 “We have to pay very close attention to the stability of biomedical research,’’ Fauci said. “This administration has been very involved, but looking forward we can't take our eye off the future. It used to be the White House and Congress worked together on biomedical enterprise. Congress isn't there anymore.”

Part of the remedy, said John Danaher, president of Elsevier Education, is illuminating the public about important biomedical discoveries so they will stand behind funding.

“The research community needs to let the public know,’’ said Danaher. “We need to have that dialogue.”

Many people don’t understand “what research has delivered,” said France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation. When a stranger recently asked Cordova what she did, Cordova told her she worked for the federal government.

“She told me she thought the most important thing the federal government has done is support the federal parks,” said Cordova. “I look forward to the day when people say ‘I think the best thing the federal government has ever done is fund research.’ We are in danger of falling behind.”

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Presidential Candidates Should Participate in Debate on Science

Source: A Research!America and poll of U.S. adults conducted in partnership with Zogby Analytics in September 2015.