Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The election’s impact on medical research

The Partnering for Cures panel “Election 2012: What Does it Mean for Medical Research?,” offered an inside look into the implications of the November election outcomes for biomedical research and innovation. In an animated discussion, panelists covered some of the hottest issues, ranging from funding for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) to sequestration to the importance of maintaining U.S. competitiveness in healthcare innovation.

Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress emphasized the need for Americans to maintain their competitive, innovative, and economic edge in the healthcare sector. In recognizing that “the president is extremely mindful of NIH’s role and its role in America’s competitiveness,” Tanden identified not only the need to solve the fiscal crisis, which has created a “high level of uncertainty that is unhelpful,” but also the strong connection between the budget and long-term American competitiveness.

Cheryl Jaeger of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office drew an optimistic picture of possible bipartisan actions that could take place with the new Congress that takes office in January. Jaeger argued that while opinions may differ on entitlement spending, “there really is bipartisan agreement on the importance of funding NIH and FDA. If there is one area where both sides of the aisle come together, it is on medical research.” The challenge lies not in realizing the crucial necessity of these organizations for medical research, but in understanding how “we can grow the economy and how to make sure that individuals recognize that these programs are the highest priority within the funding infrastructure.”

Wendell Primus of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office focused largely on the government’s need to raise more revenue in general and to take care of the large wave of baby boomers that are set to retire in the next decade. “We are not going to take Medicaid and Medicare spending down enough to increase NIH budgets – it ain’t going to happen. If we don’t raise revenue, the NIH budget will continue to go down in real terms,” he argued. For Primus, Obama’s re-election has meant the chance to raise government revenue and bring the NIH budget back to a place where it is not losing value due to stagnant funding levels and a loss of purchasing power over time.

Scott Gottlieb of the American Enterprise Institute pointed out that company formation has been limited, VCs are consolidating, and funds for startups are beginning to dry out. Gottlieb argued that the NIH is only part of the ecosystem when it comes to innovation, and there is a need to “look at what’s happening on the policy front and look at the other components: the capital formation, what’s happening with reimbursement, immigration policy, [as] these are exceedingly important to biomedical innovation.”

Moderator Greg Simon of Poliwogg posed a final question to the panelists about sequestration and if a substantial deal will be made before the “fiscal cliff” deadline. The verdict was largely optimistic, with Jaeger and Tanden believing a solution was “hopeful,” Primus stating that a solution will be reached “because we have to,” and Gottlieb suggesting that most of the major issues will likely be punted to the next Congress.

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