March 24, 2017 at 5:00 am ET
President Donald Trump’s proposed budget is essentially a policy document, outlining the policy priorities of the administration and their plan to execute desired goals. In many ways, the spirit of the document is even more important than the numbers included. To that end, reviewing the budget proposal caused concern for the value placed on the entire science and technology enterprise, and the critical role that science and research play in the lives of all Americans.
Despite drastic cuts to medical research funding, Trump has described this budget as “a public safety and national security budget.” Health and science research is national security. As we consider the need for physical security, we cannot take our eyes off of the need to be protected from and prepared for inevitable chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threats — whether they occur naturally or are planned attacks. HHS funding, including the NIH and CDC budgets, are important to ensure the health security of every American.
Supporting research at the NIH and other institutions is vital for the creation of medicines and medical countermeasures (MCM) to respond to diseases and disease outbreaks. The research at these institutions is a vital link to reduce the cost of drug and vaccine development and increase the efficiency of the overall process. Per the Bayh-Dole Act, promising research at government and academic institutions often gets accelerated into clinical development by the private sector through technology transfer. This connection between publicly-funded research and medical treatments and cures is vital. Cutting funding for biomedical research ultimately undercuts innovation, and impacts the private sector’s ability to develop MCM while simultaneously increasing the cost and complexity of the overall research and development process.
The private sector relies on the public sector in many ways, including setting priorities and incentivizing the creation of important MCM that may be risky and not profitable, but are still important for public health and preparedness. Reducing funding creates instabilities in the science and innovation infrastructure needed to support the development of MCM that we rely on in a crisis. We must connect the implications of funding allocations on the entire public health preparedness and emergency response ecosystem.
I often hear public health experts and emergency managers say that “your disaster response operations will only be as good as your day-to-day operations.” Funding the CDC to enable its ability to prepare for and respond to emergencies and disease outbreaks is critical. While the proposed federal emergency fund might provide some funding to support emergency responses, we should remember that such a fund already exists. The Public Health Emergency Fund was created in 1983, but currently contains less than $60,000. However, the emergency fund does not supplant the need sustained, consistent funding of CDC’s day to day efforts. To that end, ensuring that the CDC and other critical parts of our public health infrastructure are fully funded is a requirement of our national health security.
As a scientist, I value the immense contributions of scientific research, and have been able to see the role of science and basic research firsthand. Most researchers will tell you that being able to work in a lab and study diseases that affect real people unveils the true power and enthusiasm for science. That experience, working to find solutions for diseases and other challenges that affect our society underscores the urgency of scientific research and development enterprise.
Outside of the scientific community, we must confront the real ways that science, research and development impact the everyday American. The importance of funding science and incentivizing the research and development pipeline is ultimately about the lives of every American. Our ability to provide medicines, medical devices, and other tools to improve the quality of life of American citizens depends on funding science.
While it is true that not every research study and effort is guaranteed to yield a major scientific breakthrough, the creation of more knowledge is vital to any cutting edge solution. It is clear that every level of society will benefit from scientific breakthroughs and research that have the potential to translate into medicines and cures to benefit patients and keep our country safe.
Nicolette A. Louissaint is the director of programming for Healthcare Ready. She previously served as a foreign affairs officer at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.
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