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Urgency of Meeting the Moment

Dear Research Advocate,

The emergence of the Omicron variant underscores the urgency of R&D funding, not only to assure the success of the fight against the constantly evolving SARS-Cov-2, but to prepare for the next pandemic and vanquish other health threats. In an essay in The New York Times, Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, speaks to the importance of acting swiftly, not giving in to fear or indifference, and utilizing the tools we have built over the past few years. (Dr. Jha will be joining us for a special discussion on Monday; details below.) 

But it’s difficult to act swiftly when passage of FY22 funding is still on hold. 

On the Hill: The current continuing resolution (CR) flat-funding the federal government at FY21 levels expires tomorrow at midnight. It has been in place for 62 days (our clock is counting!); as we have said many times before, “CRs stop progress!” Additional delay in finalizing FY22 spending levels continues to hamper desperately needed health, medical, and scientific breakthroughs. 

This evening the House passed a new CR extending current funding levels to February 18, 2022 (which will be day 140 operating under a CR). The legislation now moves to the Senate where its fate is unclear. Continuing the status quo – instead of taking steps to meet the Omicron moment and advance a myriad of research projects confronting other diseases – is simply untenable.

In many of my letters, I ask you to contact members of Congress but this week, I suggest another kind of advocacy as well: send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper explaining why funding for health, medical, and scientific research is so important, making the case for immediate enactment of FY22 spending bills. These tips from The New York Times letters editor will help you shape your (short!) message.

Bold Solutions to Meet the Moment: In a commentary published this week in Nature, former NIH directors Drs. Harold Varmus and Elias Zerhouni, a Research!America Emeritus Board member, state the case for the creation of a federal Department of Technology and Science Policy to better equip the U.S. with the expertise and influence required to remain competitive on the global stage. The authors acknowledge the real-world difficulties of implementing their bold proposal but urge full consideration of the ideas they advance. 

The same urgency expressed by Drs. Varmus and Zerhouni informs the Science and Technology Action Committee (STAC) and its Action Plan. Yesterday, STAC sent a letter signed by nearly 70 organizations to congressional leadership urging them to swiftly conference the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) and the NSF for the Future Act. The signees urge Congress to include four essential elements in the final bill (read the letter for details).

Support for FDA Nominee: Yesterday, we joined Friends of Cancer Research and 53 other organizations in a letter to Senate and HELP Committee leadership expressing support of the President’s nomination of Robert Califf, MD, as FDA Commissioner. Gaps in leadership stall progress, and – as we remind the Senate – Dr. Califf “is uniquely positioned to hit the ground running” to help the FDA continue its important mission to ensure treatments are safe and effective.

Help Spotlight Basic Research: The most unusual or seemingly irrelevant projects can result in discoveries that benefit society in significant ways. Each year the Golden Goose Awards (see past awardees) seek to recognize federally funded basic research projects of this nature, underscoring the importance of vigorous, sustained support. Nominations received by December 17 will be considered for the 2022 awards. 

Biobanking Forum Tomorrow: Accelerated application of biospecimens can speed public health solutions, but only if samples are collected, handled, used, and shared in ways that consider and secure patients’ rights. Join Research!America, Takeda, and others from across the biomedical R&D ecosystem in “Discussing Biobanking Today,” a virtual forum tomorrow, December 3, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Register to attend, and use #biospecimenforum to join the discussion on Twitter.

Special Discussions: On Tuesday I had the honor of speaking with Vivian W. Pinn, MD, the inaugural director of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health. Dr. Pinn is a recipient of our 2022 Outstanding Achievement in Public Health Award, generously supported by Johnson & Johnson. We discussed her remarkable career. I was struck by her emphasis on the importance of soliciting and being responsive to the diverse views of members of the public who stand to benefit from research and want to help drive progress. And of the importance of partnerships. Watch the discussion and be inspired. 

Register now for next week’s special discussion, “In Real Time: Strengthening Pandemic Communication and Response,” on Monday, December 6, 2:15 – 3 p.m. ET. We’ll hear from two additional honorees in the suite of 2022 Outstanding Achievement in Public Health Awards, generously supported by Johnson & Johnson: Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, recipient of the Meeting the Moment for Public Health Award, and Christopher Murray, MD, DPhil, recipient of the Building the Foundation Award. Drs. Jha and Murray are among the nation’s foremost leaders working to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Bring your questions about the Omicron variant, and about the past, present, and future of the global threat that has changed the course of our nation and world.

Stay well, stay safe, and stay connected.


Mary Woolley