On Sept. 12, Research!America’s 2013 National Health Research Forum took place at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Watch video highlights and read more about the event below.
By Bara Vaida
WebMD Health News
Top government and business leaders came together Thursday in Washington, D.C. to raise the alarm about federal cuts in biomedical and health care research and to rally science and research advocates to call members of Congress.
Over a lunch of goat cheese salad and braised chicken, panelists organized by the advocacy group Research!America, told more than one hundred scientists, researchers, health care workers, professors, federal government staff and policy advocates, that the ongoing federal budget sequestration is likely to hurt future innovation and public health. When Congress failed to pass a budget earlier this year, all government agencies had to “sequester,” or cut their budgets.
“I don’t think we have made our case sufficiently,” said panelist Francis Collins, NIH director. The NIH lost $1.7 billion in federal funding because of the sequester. “People are demoralized. On October 1, we are going to lose another $600 million that will not fund 650 grants. That is research that could have been the next cure for cancer or the next Nobel Prize. But we’ll never know.”
Leaders from health care companies, medical teaching hospitals and other federal agencies, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the CDC and FDA also painted a dire picture of the state of science and medicine. Several drug company executives said they count on federal investments in the NIH and other agencies because it provides seed money for breakthrough therapies in the future. Without that money, there will be fewer new treatments, said Tony Coles, president and CEO of Onyx Pharmaceuticals.
“Make noise people!” Collins urged members of the audience, who were sitting in a Newseum conference room with a view of Capitol Hill. “Come along. Help me out!”
Other panelists talking about the impact of federal cuts said:
- FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg: The sequester has reduced the flow of user fees to the agency and strained resources. “We are worried that we won’t be able to retain the very best people for the review process” of drugs and medical devices.
- CDC Director Tom Frieden: His agency will have to cut “several thousand” public health workers on top of the 46,000 state and local public health jobs that were cut for state budget reasons. That means “outbreaks won’t be detected, vaccinations won’t happen” and there “ will be costs in terms of human suffering.”
- William Hait, global head of Janssen Research & Development, an arm of Janssen, a unit of Johnson & Johnson: Federal budget cuts have hampered the ability of medical school faculty to focus on research and have dissuaded medical students toward careers in science and research. “I am worried about this cultural shift. It used to be the highest calling to go into research. Now funding is so tough students don’t see it as a career. We are losing the next generation.”
- Patrick Conway, chief medical officer for CMS and director of CMS’s Center for Clinical Standards and Quality: He said that government investment has paid some returns in reforming the way health care services are delivered. The Affordable Care Act penalizes hospitals if too many Medicare patients get an infection while in the hospital. “We have aligned payment incentives and now infections are down.”