Research Advocates Will Miss Senator Mikulski

Campaign for Cures

The Campaign for Cures Election 2016 blog features news, analysis, commentary and data about the presidential candidates and congressional races in key states on issues relevant to medical progress. Janice Lloyd, former USA Today senior editor and health reporter, manages The Campaign for Cures blog. You can reach Janice at   Follow Campaign for Cures, a national voter education initiative, on Twitter and Facebook and visit

Research Advocates Will Miss Senator Mikulski

Janice Lloyd

When U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) retires next year after a Capitol Hill career spanning four decades, advocates for research will say farewell to one of their most stalwart champions.

In several interviews, members hailed the qualities behind her “unrivaled success’’ and discussed the caliber of leader necessary to ensure medical progress is uninterrupted. They are looking for someone with Senator Mikulski’s strong interpersonal skills, deep commitment to biomedical progress, indefatigable yearning to understand and prioritize key issues and savvy ability to strategize and compromise in order to bring legislation to fruition.

“She’ll be missed,’’ said Evan Jones, chairman and CEO of jVen Capital, a private life sciences investment firm. “During her five terms, the doubling of the NIH budget and the ongoing support for medical research has been a central issue in the science industry.”

For example, he said look “at the genome research, the translation of that is a renaissance in terms of health care. It’s probably most evident in the cancer field but you can see it in rare diseases across the board.

“There’s much more to be done, but the Senator has been a strong advocate for health care funding. She’s been the type of Senator people could always count on to help with the fight.”

Often, he observed that she worked across the aisles to get the job done.

“She has been known to cross these partisan lines that have developed and take positions that were independent of party affiliation,’’ Jones said. “She was able to fight for what’s right even though it might not have been politically easy.”

Another important quality: She’s always interested in seeing growth, said E. Albert Reece, dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “She is going to leave a huge hole behind. She’s a passionate leader, a fighter, and an advocate. You can call on her at any time.”

He said she and her staff embraced doing their homework: “I like her keenness on information and education. She will sometimes meet with us just to be fully informed.  She will spend maybe half a day just listening, asking questions. She’s been a real champion here in the area of research and scientific development and enhancements.”

Whoever succeeds her will need to take some time to get to where she left off, Reece added.

“We need someone who cares and somebody who is willing to listen. Not just listen on the fly but make a purposeful effort to  know what’s going on. You need a leader like that to make informed decisions. They need to be responsive to information they’ve received. He said Mikulski also keenly appreciates the multiple benefits of research: “It helps patients and helps the economy at both the state and national level. I’d like to see her successor make that commitment.”

The race to fill her seat is between the Democratic nominee U.S. Representative Chris Van Hollen, and Republican nominee Kathy Szeglia, a state lawmaker.

Szeglia said if elected she wants to harness the state's collective brain trust, strategic location, and industry partnerships to help deliver new cures, vaccines, drugs, treatments, and ways to improve the health for all.  

“We can get there through removing barriers, improving public-private partnerships, investing in our future scientists, and modernizing the clinical trials process to bring life-saving drugs to patients faster.

“I think the 21st Century Cures legislation was a great building block for improving health outcomes for all Marylanders and Americans.

Van Hollen said in the last budget, “we were able to give NIH the largest funding increase in over a decade, but we need to do more to keep up with biomedical inflation and ensure that Maryland's bioscience industry continues to grow and create jobs.

“In addition to increasing the federal research budget, I'm looking at innovative ways to steer more support to NIH and build on Senator Mikulski's unrivaled work to prioritize our research institutions. Maryland's bioscience industry is an engine for jobs and a critical source of new cures and treatments for the nation, and I am committed to continuing to work to ensure its success."

Senator Mikulski said she hopes the fight to find additional NIH funding is steadfast in order to make breakthroughs to keep families healthy.

“I’m pleased the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed bipartisan funding for fiscal year 2017 that provides a $2 billion increase for NIH,’’ she said.

“They truly are the National Institutes of Hope, supporting cutting-edge treatments and cures. That’s why I worked to double NIH’s budget, have fought for increases to NIH’s budget and have been a leading voice against the devastating effects of sequester. We must continue to invest in meeting compelling human need, preparing the next generation of student researchers so they have the tools they need to find the next cure and make the next breakthrough.

“With a government on their side, patients suffering from diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer will know they have a doctor at their bedside and a researcher in the lab working to help them.”  


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