NIH Director: Next 'Cure for Cancer' Lost to Sequester

Marrecca Fiore

September 18, 2013

Billions of dollars in research funding and thousands of health-related jobs have been lost to the sequester, putting the nation's healthcare system at risk, said panelists speaking at a health forum last week.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, MD, said his institute has lost $1.7 billion in federal funding since the start of sequestration and stands to lose another $600 million on October 1.

"People are demoralized," said Dr. Collins, speaking at the 2013 National Health Research Forum held at the Newseum last week in Washington, DC. "That is research that could have been the next cure for cancer or the next Nobel Prize. But we'll never know."

Last Thursday's forum, titled "Straight Talk About the Future of Medical and Health Research," was hosted by Research!America and featured 3 panel discussions that included representatives from government, industry, research, and academia.

Although some of the discussion focused on new and innovative ways that government, academia, and the private sector could partner on research, much of the conversation was devoted to public sector cuts in research funding, many of which stem from the sequester.

"Are we ready to speak forcefully and candidly to our officials about the problems they've created through their inaction?" asked Research!America Chair John Edward Porter, JD, a former US congressman from Illinois, during his opening remarks.

Dr. Francis Collins

"Are we ready to talk to them about the research that's not being conducted and the number of scientists leaving the profession, the missed opportunities, the lost jobs, the threat to our global competitiveness?"

Porter said Research!America's polling shows that the majority of Americans support research as a means to lower healthcare costs, and half are willing to pay more taxes if the money is used to support medical research.

He added that Congress can no longer "kick the can down the road" when it comes to medical research. "They either have to get the job done or they have to get out of the way."

Other speakers expressed similar concerns.

"Outbreaks Won't Be Detected..."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said tens of thousands of federal, state, and local healthcare jobs have been or will be cut because of ongoing budgetary restraints. He said the results could be devastating.

"Outbreaks won't be detected, vaccines won't happen," he said, adding that there "will be costs in terms of human suffering."

Bart Peterson, JD, senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications at drug maker Lilly, the conference's lead sponsor, said the United States has become the global leader in health innovation during the past 30 years through "sound public policy," but that status is at risk.

"Public funding for research, which is so threatened today, is absolutely critical to the future, and we care about that in the private sector as much as anybody else," said Peterson, a former mayor of Indianapolis. "The stakes are very, very high. We need new medicines, and we need new technologies in medicine."

On the regulatory side of medicine, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said the sequester has reduced and strained resources to her agency as well.

"Investment in research is key," she said. "We have to look at economic policies, we have to look at reimbursement policies, and we have to look at regulatory policies and pathways. Advancing innovation and protecting the patients that use our healthcare system go hand and hand."

Dr. Hamburg added that she and others at the agency worry further cuts may make it difficult for the FDA to retain the "very best people" to oversee the drug and device review process.

2013 National Health Research Forum. Presented September 12, 2013.

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