The emergence of COVID-19 as a global pandemic is a clear reminder of the importance of investing in research and strengthening our public health capacity to better understand how to prevent and treat disease. Though the month of March marked a significant shift in the way Research!America operated day-to-day, we wanted to ensure advocacy with and engagement between our alliance member organizations didn’t skip a beat.
Research!America increased the frequency of our alliance member calls from monthly to weekly to share the most timely and relevant information on COVID-19 and other issues impacting the medical and public health research ecosystem. Although information opportunities were growing daily the calls attracted consistently high attendance. Below are the highlights with links to recordings.
March 16, 2020 - As COVID-19 news was changing the national landscape daily, Research!America hosted a call with Dr. Larry Tabak, NIH’s Principal Deputy Director, and Dr. Michael Lauer, Deputy Director for Extramural Research to offer guidance for NIH grantees. They emphasized NIH would offer as much flexibility as possible during these challenging times. A recording of the call is here (registration required).
“We want to do what is best to enable the research to go forward and, in a flexible way, deal with the many disruptions that you are going to face.”
-Dr. Michael Lauer, Deputy Director for Extramural Research at NIH
March 19, 2020 - Dr. Jacqueline Corrigan-Curay, Director of the Office of Medical Policy at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) spoke about the FDA’s ongoing work on real-world evidence and real-world data, explaining how this powerful tool may be harnessed by researchers to improve clinical trials and drug development. Dana Acton, Legislative Director for House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY-17) discussed the status of FY21 appropriations and the impact of COVID-19 on the process. She encouraged all listeners to continue to advocate for their appropriations “asks” even, and especially, in light of COVID-19. You can see Dr. Corrigan-Curay’s presentation here.
“We understand that these are extraordinary times as [scientists] try to navigate what to do with their clinical trials.”
-Dr. Jacqueline Corrigan-Curay, Director of the Office of Medical Policy at CDER
March 24, 2020 - Dr. David Skorton, President of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) discussed strategies for medical colleges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Skorton and his colleagues emphasized the irreplaceable value of fundamental research. You can find a link to this conversation, including alliance member Q&A, here (registration required.)
“We cannot respond and we will not be able to respond better next time if we don’t have more answers. We’re only going to get those answers through funded research.”
-Dr. David Skorton, President of AAMC
April 7, 2020 - Research!America board member and APHA Executive Director, Dr. Georges Benjamin discussed the COVID-19 landscape and APHA’s efforts. Dr. Benjamin addressed the “infodemic” and “epidemic of fear” associated with poor communication and misinformation. Dr. Benjamin encouraged everyone to fight misinformation by promoting facts, providing frequent communication, and building trust. Looking forward, Dr. Benjamin discussed societal changes he expects in the future; he called for everyone to consider public health as our second job from now on. Access Dr. Benjamin’s talk here.
“I’m hoping every person in this country, if they are not primarily in a public health job, that public health will be their second job. I’m hoping that we will be willing to invest in a robust, sustainable public health system.”
-Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director APHA
April 9, 2020 - Adrienne Hallett, Director, NIH Office for Legislative Policy and Analysis shared updates on NIH COVID-19 response efforts. She emphasized that NIH fully recognizes and is committed to doing all it can to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on patients and on current and future scientific discovery. Here is a link to an FAQ resource she recommended during the call.
April 13, 2020 - Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the CDC opened with an overview of the COVID-19 pandemic and the CDC’s response to date. He stressed COVID-19 is the greatest public health challenge the United States has faced in more than a century. Dr. Redfield highlighted CDC’s critical distribution of funding to its partners in state, local, and tribal public health departments who are fighting COVID-19 on the ground. He also emphasized the United States should use this time to expand existing public health infrastructure in order to be better prepared for future public health challenges.
“We do face the gravity of this pandemic and its capacity to disrupt our lives. I do believe that our resolve and dedication all working together, united as a nation, we will get the best data and apply science and we're going to get through this. I look forward to the innovation that we're going to see for many of your members to improve the tools we have for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.”
-Dr. Robert Redfield, Director, CDC
April 15, 2020 - Scott Whitaker, President and CEO, AdvaMed opened the discussion by sharing the work AdvaMed companies and others have done to produce diagnostics, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (PPE) at an accelerated rate during the COVID-19 outbreak. He stressed cooperation between the private sector and the federal government has been crucial to the response. Next, Dr. Richard Bright, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and Director of BARDA, shared an overview of BARDA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the importance of public-private partnerships. He encouraged Research!America members to submit ideas for medical countermeasures (MCMs) to medicalcountermeasures.gov, and explained BARDA’s methods for prioritizing the development of certain MCMs.
"It’s interesting now because as we’re fighting as a nation, and around the world, the pandemic of COVID-19, our companies have been on the frontline of dealing with this. We have the diagnostic tools that are being used to diagnose the disease, many of the medical equipment and supplies in the hospitals that treat the patients that suffer from the disease, and most our companies produce PPE that is protecting the heroes on the front line."
- Scott Whitaker
April 20, 2020 - Dr. Harvey Fineberg, President of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and chair of the National Academies Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases, joined an alliance member call to discuss the steps needed to contain and someday end the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Looking ahead, the COVID-19 experience is going to leave us with a way of interacting and living that is never going to be exactly like it was in the past."
- Dr. Harvey Fineberg
April 28, 2020 - Donna Cryer, President and CEO of the Global Liver Institute and Leslie Ritter, Associate Vice President, Federal Government Relations at National MS Society, joined an alliance member call. Donna shared updates on GLI's comprehensive COVID-19 response program, including a popular Facebook Live series for the patient, caregiver, and research community. Leslie discussed the disruptive impact of COVID-19 on research supported by voluntary health associations, philanthropies, and scientific societies.
"How [did] we get to a global covid 19 response program that is reaching 30,000 people a week? Going back six weeks, I had think through, how to respond, first as a patient, when I could see that plans for care for high-risk patients like me were not there yet. I had to think through, as a caregiver, what their needs were going to be. I needed to think about our office, making sure everyone was equipped to do their job remotely. Thinking about sustainable delivery of service from a human-centered place came first."
April 30, 2020 - Dr. Francis Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health and Dr. Keith Yamamoto, Professor Emeritus; Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy; Director, UCSF Precision Medicine, University of California, San Francisco and Research!America board member joined a call with alliance members. Dr. Collins provided an overview of NIH’s unprecedented Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV), a partnership between industry and governmental leaders working to speed COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Dr. Collins also discussed the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) Initiative, unveiled just yesterday. RADx will infuse funding into early innovative technologies to speed the development of rapid and widely accessible COVID-19 testing. Dr. Yamamoto discussed COVID-19 related disruptions to the work of postdocs, early-stage investigators, and graduate students, and the broader challenge to medical progress itself.
"I often like to point out while our initials are NIH….in circumstances like this we’re the National Institutes of Hope. While fear, anxiety, and stress are all around us, hope can be contagious.”
- Dr. Francis Collins
“We have to keep in mind that the whole spectrum that is so essential to being able to understand the mechanism of diseases, the way to prevent, treat, cure it, has stopped. I’m hopeful as well that we can convey that message clearly enough to get the resources so we can reverse the damage.”
- Dr. Keith Yamamoto