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2006 National Health Research Forum

Science and Health in the 21st Century Top Research Leaders Discuss Challenges and Opportunities
March 21, 2006

Above: L-R Elias Zerhouni, MD, Arden Bement, PhD; Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH; Declan Doogan, MD; Helen Darling; The Honorable John Edward Porter; Mary Woolley; Myrl Weinberg, CAE; Carolyn Clancy, MD; John Leonard, MD

Research!America’s 2006 National Forum, “Science and Health in the 21st Century – Leadership Requirements and Public Expectations,” brought together industry leaders, heads of federal agencies and other stakeholders in research and health. Nearly 200 attended the March 21 event, which was broadcast live on C-SPAN.

Ralph Cicerone, PhD, president, National Academies of Science, delivered the keynote, focusing on the report Rising Above the Gathering Storm (National Academies Press).

He said, “The dominant question was what actions can and should the federal government undertake … to enhance the scientific and technological basis of prosperity and security in the 21st century?” Despite bipartisan support in Congress for much in the report, Cicerone said “the country really has to be reminded of the opportunities that science and technology and medical research have to offer.”

David Gergen, editor-at-large, U.S. News and World Report, moderated the high-level discussion that followed. Of America’s ability to respond to circumstances cited in the Gathering Storm, he said, “As I go around the country and talk to the CEOs of major corporations or presidents of universities, what I hear is a growing concern about our capacity to deal with these issues. And yet we find ourselves with a feeling that maybe this isn’t gaining the traction it deserves.”

Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “We’ve made a very strong spiritual commitment to health protection, to health promotion and prevention and, more recently, preparedness. But I think we’ve really failed to shore up that commitment with the true scientific and societal investments we need to really make a difference. And we’re paying a price for it.”

On the downstream impact of failing to reap the benefits of medical research advances, Carolyn Clancy, MD, director, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, said, “Too often our health care system fails to deliver the benefit of science to patients who can benefit,” driving health care costs higher and prompting employers to locate elsewhere in the world.

Arden Bement, Jr., PhD, director, National Science Foundation, noted that among our nation’s many strengths are “our strong universities, our strong research infrastructure and also our innovation system, which has for many years had the ability to take new concepts and bring them into the marketplace faster than anyone else.” Yet he cautioned that our leadership in these areas is being challenged by many nations.

John Leonard, MD, vice president, global medical and scientific affairs for Abbott, commented on the growth of industry research and science jobs outside the U.S. “Corporations are ultimately stateless,” he said. “It’s entirely possible to imagine a future where the bulk of that [R&D]work takes place offshore, carried out by foreign-born scientists.”

While competition from other countries is encroaching, “knowledge creation is exquisite in this country and will continue to be so, “said Declan Doogan, MD, senior vice president, Pfizer Global Research and Development.

Representing the perspective of large employers, Helen Darling, president, National Business Group on Health, noted that health care costs are expected to double to $4 trillion in the next 10 years and that 60%of the liability will fall on the public sector. “If people don’t think that’s going to change priorities, they haven’t been paying attention,” she said.

Myrl Weinberg, CAE, president, National Health Council, observed, “To me there is no sense of urgency in the nation. There is no understanding of the interrelationships of all of these issues.”

Cicerone noted, “We have to get out there and tell the stories … to reinvigorate the entire sense of excitement and what can be done-maybe scary stories, too-but we have to get the story out there. I think Congress will follow.”

Read the transcript from the National Forum keynote presentation and panel session.