Home » Mary Woolley's Weekly Letter » Celebration and Consternation

Celebration and Consternation

Yesterday, we celebrated Nevan Krogan, PhD, the first-ever winner of our Discovery | Innovation | Health Prize, generously supported by Pfizer, for his trailblazing work to date and commitment to a bold path forward to address future pandemic threats. The Prize was presented at our 2023 National Health Research Forum, which featured an amazing array of leaders representing government, academia, the patient community, and industry discussing pressing topics impacting the medical and health research ecosystem. 

Dr. Krogan, director of UCSF’s Quantitative Biosciences Institute, is gifted in building collaborations across sectors and continents to address global problems. Early in the pandemic, his team cloned all the genes associated with SARS-CoV-2 and shared them freely with hundreds of labs around the world to help accelerate research innovation. Read about his team’s latest work, published this morning, on combating all variants of COVID-19 and other future viral threats with pandemic potential.

More From the Forum: Wednesday’s in-person Forum sessions, including comments from Dr. Krogan, will be available online next week. Tuesday’s Forum sessions, which were all virtual, are available now, including discussions on mental health research, combating misinformation, the future of CHIPS and Science, and much more.

One timely conversation yesterday was a fireside chat with Larry Tabak, DDS, PhD, acting director of the NIH. Asked about the federal budget debate raging in Congress, Dr. Tabak commented:

“The biomedical research community is a living thing, and young people are not stupid… when they see vagaries in future support for what they have fallen in love with, and if they see the fear and concern of their faculty as they try to ‘read the tea leaves,’ it does have an overall chilling effect for the future,” Dr. Tabak said.

“What we surely do not want to do is to lose a generation of scientists… we need all the talent we can possibly attract to biomedical research. We need it from all parts of our nation. We need it from people with all different kinds of experiences and backgrounds. Because every study we are aware of shows that if we have a diverse team, diverse thought, we do a better job.”

On the Hill: Dr. Tabak’s comments are not abstract speculation; we face an immediate and pressing threat to research funding – along with all its downstream, multi-decade impacts. House leadership has been unable to arrive at a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government running until Congress coalesces around final FY24 funding levels. The House has only four legislative days – and the Senate only five – before failure to act would trigger a government shutdown on October 1.

For several weeks we have asked you to weigh in, to urge your representative to champion a CR. Are we all frustrated? Yes. Are we daunted? No. Has it become a waste of time for advocates to keep pressing? No! Never say never to a last minute deal when it comes to this or any Congress; silence from advocates now is akin to admitting – and predestining – defeat.

We’ve asked you to email and we’ve asked you to post on X (formerly Twitter). This week, we’re also asking you to consider using LinkedIn to recruit more advocates to the cause. Here is a sample LinkedIn post focused on the well-documented taxpayer costs of government shutdowns. Post it, share it, or use it for inspiration!

Ending Rural Health Disparities: The Republican majority on the House Ways and Means Committee has issued a request for information on “Improving Access to Care in Rural and Underserved Communities.” Input is due by October 5. Consider weighing in on the importance of research to improve rural health care. 

Join us at noon ET on Tuesday, September 26, for a discussion with two influential rural health experts from the University of Illinois Rockford, Brianna Sheppard, PhD, and Dr. Heidi Olson, PharmD. Together, we’ll look at research-based solutions against the diversity of health challenges in rural communities.

More to Celebrate: Dr. Krogan isn’t the only prize recipient announced this week. Today, the Lasker Foundation announced the winners of the 2023 Lasker Awards, celebrating innovators in biomedical research. Check out specially-created animations highlighting the honorees’ achievements: The AlphaFold Revolution; Optical Coherence Tomography: A New Way of Seeing; and Piet Borst: Serving Up Scientific Excellence. Congratulations to the winners!