Imagine a child with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a blood and bone marrow cancer that affects her white blood cells. If she had been born in the 1960s, she’d have had a 10 percent chance of survival. Let’s make her, instead, a child of the 21st century. In 2019, the five-year survival rate of children with ALL has increased to more than 85 percent. Research funded by the National Institutes of Health has played a pivotal role in this progress. But a 15 percent chance of death is 100 percent too high. Researchers must continue to work until every young patient survives.
Think of an adult, struggling with addiction and the chronic pain for which he first received an opioid prescription. He can’t find work to support his family, and in his tight-knit small town, most residents have lost friends or family to Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). His community isn’t alone — across the United States, an average of 130 people die every day from opioid-related overdoses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is running point against this crisis, leading cross-agency efforts to track, prevent and ultimately end this crisis.
Now, imagine if we slash the budgets of U.S. research agencies. Rather than gaining ground on the opioid crisis, progress gets ground up. The goal of ending acute lymphoblastic leukemia remains just that. A goal.
Why would anyone put the brakes on progress against health threats that take loved ones from us? If Congress fails to raise Fiscal Year 2020 budget caps, that’s exactly what will happen.
In fact, if Congress doesn’t raise these “sequestration” budget caps — an unintended consequence of failed budget negotiations that took place nearly a decade ago — every federally funded public health and science agency could face steep cuts. NIH’s budget, for example, could be slashed by upwards of $4 billion. That means many fewer research projects will be funded, putting the brakes on progress. For the 38 percent of Americans who will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime, for the six in 10 American adults living with a chronic disease or disorder, this funding cut would stall new treatments. The next cure for a deadly childhood cancer, the next solution for opioid addiction, the next vaccine for a pernicious infection or virus will slip further from our reach.
Americans want and need the federal government, working in concert with academic and private sector researchers, to find solutions to what ails us. Public opinion survey data commissioned by Research!America finds that Americans overwhelmingly care about scientific progress and support federal investments in research. Congress should listen to the American people and not allow out-of-touch, out-of-date budget caps to stymie progress. It’s time to raise the budget caps. It’s time to fund science.
Mary Woolley is the president of Research!America, the nation’s largest not-for-profit alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority.
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