Public Comments

03/20/2013

United for Medical Research statement on FY14 appropriations for NIH

Statement by United for Medical Research on FY 2014 Appropriations for the National Institutes of Health Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations, United States House of Representatives

United for Medical Research (UMR) represents leading research institutions, patient and health advocates and private industry who have joined together to seek steady support in federal funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). We appreciate the opportunity to express our strong endorsement for continuing our nation’s commitment to biomedical research, so that we may remain the world leader in the life sciences. UMR recognizes that this is a time of difficult choices and fiscal constraint. However, we urge Congress to ensure NIH remains a priority, as an economic driver, an irreplaceable federal funder of basic research, and the source for extraordinary improvements in our health, longevity, and quality of life.

NIH Research is Critical to Private Sector Innovation

A steady stream of medical advances, from new drugs and devices to improved diagnostics and cutting edge technologies, are founded in federally funded research discoveries. The biomedical research pipeline is a seamless partnership between the 300,000 scientists funded by NIH, performing research at 2,500 institutions in all fifty states, and the private sector, which provides the products to support research discovery and brings research breakthroughs to fruition and into the marketplace. As MacroGenics CEO, Scott Koenig testified last year before this subcommittee, “The NIH is the nation’s premier biomedical research agency and there is no private sector alternative for much of the basic research that NIH supports.”

As a key player in the innovation ecosystem, NIH funds the highest-quality science and trains the next generation of medical researchers, ensuring that the pipeline of knowledge and talent does not run dry. The private sector’s ability to maintain the rate of medical advancements, create and sustain high-wage jobs, and spur nationwide and regional economic activity depends on a sustained commitment to NIH.

NIH as an Economic Engine and the Impact of Sequestration

Unfortunately, in recent years, we have seen that commitment wane, and after a decade of budgets that have failed to keep pace with biomedical inflation, NIH’s loss of purchasing power is now over 20 percent. The grim reality of the March 1st sequester cut $1.5 billion from the agency’s budget and while it will take some time to fully realize the impact of a budget reduction of this magnitude, we are already beginning to see the effects.

Earlier this month, UMR released an update to our 2011 report on the economic impact of NIH’s extramural research funding, “An Economic Engine: NIH Research, Employment, and the Future of the Medical Innovation Sector.” The new data shows that NIH funding directly and indirectly supported more than 402,000 jobs in 2012 alone and generated more than $57.8 billion in new economic activity. Using the Department of Commerce’s RIMS II model, the analysis detailed the output and employment effects of 2012 NIH extramural research funding by state, calculating the number of jobs supported in each state by NIH funding.

This new data clearly reiterates NIH’s vital role in fueling economic growth in the health and life sciences industry. However, the report also illustrated the devastating impact of the sequester, estimating the loss of more than 20,500 jobs nationwide and a reduction of new economic activity by $3 billion. This underscores the urgent need to re-energize our support of biomedical research and this critical job sector by providing NIH with increased funding to mitigate the impact of the sequester and to counteract inflation.

NIH Provides Hope to Millions

Although its importance to the nation’s economy is remarkable, we must not forget NIH’s primary mission: to improve the health of the nation. NIH has been tremendously successful in improving human health and its accomplishments are numerous and well documented: a nearly 70 percent reduction in the death rate for coronary heart disease and stroke; advances in HIV/AIDS treatment that put an AIDS-free future within reach; nearly 1 million lives saves due to decreases in cancer death rates over the past decade; and steady increases in life expectancy. Moreover, as our understanding of the human genome grows at an exponential rate, we have entered an era of personalized medicine where intervention on an individualized level is beginning to generate story after story of children and adults whose lives have been saved through cutting-edge research advances. These human stories of triumph over disease and scientific opportunity serve to provide hope to millions of patients whose diseases and conditions are still waiting for the next generation of treatment or cure.

Global Competition

In an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal, financier Michael Milken, Chairman of FasterCures and founder of the Milken Institute, said, “[T]here is an important role for government in fostering basic science, which not only saves lives but also improves quality of life. Bioscience in particular provides sustained long-term benefits through job creation, increased productivity, lower health-care costs, longer working lives, process efficiencies and cheaper energy… The United States science ecosystem—defined by collaborations among public agencies, for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations and academic research centers—still leads the world and provides benefits to every nation.” Indeed, Congress’ wisdom in investing federal dollars in NIH has yielded phenomenal dividends and made the U.S. the undisputed world leader in life science innovation.

A recent UMR report, Leadership in Decline: Assessing U.S. International Competitiveness in Biomedical Research, demonstrated that ascendancy is increasingly threatened as other nations follow in our footsteps to fuel their own biomedical research enterprises, even as we take a step back. China, India, the European Union, and Russia have all declared their intentions to increase their research investment, despite the fiscal challenges presented by the global economy. Just last week, three industry leaders, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, P. Roy Vagelos, and Elias Zerhouni, published an article in Forbes with the following grim prediction, “Today, China is challenging the US in the number of new biotechnology companies created annually. If we don’t keep up, pharmaceutical companies will eventually relocate their R&D operations to the new sources of innovation – just as they have relocated from Europe to the US over the past twenty years.” NIH Director Francis Collins has testified about the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) genomic sequencing center in Shenzhen, China, stating that, “The capacity of that one Chinese institution now surpasses the combined capacity of all genome sequencing centers in the United States." Losing our competitive edge in biomedical research is a clear and present danger to the crucial economic contributions of our life sciences innovation ecosystem.

An even more ominous threat is the impact a reduced commitment to NIH will have on the next generation of our best and brightest scientists. As Sanofi President of R&D and former NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said in a February, 2013 interview with the Washington Post, “The most impacted are the young, new investigator scientists, who are coming into science, and will now abandon the field of science. There will be a generational gap created… [i]t will impact science for generations to come.” His views are echoed by the current NIH Director, Francis Collins, who testified before this subcommittee in early March, “That’s our seed corn. It has been the strength of America, the biomedical research community, their creativity, their innovative instincts, and we’re putting that at serious risk as we see this kind of downturn in the support for research.”

Simply put, the United States cannot afford to lose the human capital that is responsible for the medical innovations that produce the treatments and cures of tomorrow and fuel the economic output of the biosciences industry. If we do not reprioritize NIH and biomedical research, it will take decades to replenish the scientific talent and intellectual capacity that will be driven to other nations or away from a promising research career.

NIH Should Remain a U.S. Priority

Policymakers find themselves at a historic juncture where they must balance the need to preserve our fragile economic recovery in the short term, with the requirement to reduce federal debt over the long term. Our na­tion’s commitment to NIH addresses both of these issues – by preserving jobs needed to sustain our economic recovery – and by generating the discoveries that will bolster the nation’s economy for decades to come. Given its many economic, societal and health benefits, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should make pre­serving NIH funding and preventing sequestration a top priority.

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