"No idea is too big. No idea is too small." That's how Representative Fred Upton, the Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, opened the first 21st Century Cures Roundtable this week. Chairman Upton has co-launched this new bipartisan initiative with Rep. Diana DeGette with a mission to accelerate the pace of cures in America by making sure policy is keeping pace with innovation. The initiative intends to create better policies across the spectrum of medical innovation, from early discoveries to drug development to the delivery of treatment. The initiative aims to close a gap between regulation and science so that scientists can do research rather than fundraising.
The 21st Century Cures initiative (#Path2Cures) was launched this week with the Roundtable featuring major thought leaders, including NIH Director Francis Collins. Dr. Collins spoke about the tragedy of current budget constraints that are at-odds with our vast medical potential today:
The talent and ideas exist, but we're risking it all by not providing the funding. "We are at risk of losing something that has been one of America's greatest stories - our success in biomedical research."
- Dr. Collins cited a recent USAToday editorial that told the story of Xiao-Wei Chen, a brilliant young researcher who has received 12 years of education at the University of Michigan and is now returning to China to work because the NIH had a hiring freeze and couldn't offer him a position.
- Without a change in course, China is expected to out-pace the U.S. in biomedical research within 5 years. But it's not just China: Singapore, Brazil, Germany, and others increasingly emphasize the importance of biomedical research at a time when the United States is cutting research funding.
- Smart economics: Aside from the ethical obligation to seek and deliver high-quality cures, Dr. Collins pointed out that the return on investment in such research can be enormous. He cited brand-new analysis from the NIH's Women's Health Initiative Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy Trials that revealed a net economic gain of $140 for every dollar invested in the trial's research -- a 140:1 return!
- Dr. Collins posed the question: "Why is medical research discretionary?" Others in attendance echoed this question, with a consensus that budget solutions are critical to establishing stable, long-term progress for biomedical research and to stop the dangerous cycle of "feast or famine."
- "We're leaving half the science on the table." As he has stated elsewhere recently, Dr. Collins said the unfortunate reality is that the NIH now must reject half of its worthy research proposals due to budget constraints.
Over the next six months, the Upton-DeGette initiative will focus on gathering information. This week's Roundtable and the white paper that preceded it were the first of many expected to follow. The intent is to develop comprehensive, bipartisan legislation following this investigative period, with the Congressional sponsors hoping to see legislation passed within three years.
We will be working to see that pediatric cancer is featured in coming discussions. CCCA will be informing and encouraging childhood cancer advocates and organizations to be heard in future debates and will be providing thoughtful policy analysis to help guide the conversation.
What do you hope to see come out of this Congressional initiative? Share with us in the comments.