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Biomedical research cuts hurting U.S.

By Anna G. Eshoo and Sheldon Whitehouse
updated 6:59 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Investment in biomedical research must rise: Anna G. Eshoo and Sheldon Whitehouse
  • Such research will help beat future epidemics, they say
  • Global competitors in biomedical research catching up, writers argue

Editor's note: Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-California, represents Silicon Valley and serves as a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees federal health policy. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, is a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The views expressed are their own.

(CNN) -- Despite the tireless efforts of many health professionals, progress against Ebola and other diseases has been slowed by federal budget cuts. To boost our efforts to prevent epidemics, federal investment in biomedical research should be revived.

Sheldon Whitehouse
Sheldon Whitehouse

In the short term, we support the emergency resources the administration has allocated to address the Ebola outbreak. But we also believe in the long game.

Anna Eshoo
Anna Eshoo

Staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have been deployed to West Africa, joined by U.S. military personnel who are also responding to the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Domestically, personnel at these agencies are preparing our health care system to respond to Ebola cases, including coordinating responses among hospitals, developing guidance for state and local health departments, and providing the public with up-to-date information. They are also contracting with pharmaceutical companies to expedite development of cutting-edge treatments and vaccines.

The trouble is that investment in key agencies like NIH and CDC -- the world's foremost biomedical research and public health institutions -- has fallen dramatically in recent years.

Between 2010 and 2013, the CDC saw over a billion dollars slashed from its budget. The purchasing power at the NIH, meanwhile, has been cut 10% over the last four years. And since 2010, the Hospital Preparedness Program, which provides resources to community hospitals for public health emergencies, has been cut by 44%, when adjusted for inflation. U.S. global health programs alone have lost over $400 million.

In a Senate hearing on the Ebola epidemic, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of NIH, had this to say about the effects of recent budget cuts on the agency's efforts: "It has both in an acute and a chronic, insidious way eroded our ability to respond in the way that I and my colleagues would like to see us be able to respond to these emerging threats."

A look further back reveals even deeper cuts to biomedical research budgets. As a percentage of the total federal budget, we spend two-thirds less on research and development today than we did in 1965. At NIH, the number of research grants the agency is able to fund has declined every year since 2004.

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We need to change course and boost federal investments in biomedical research, and we therefore support legislation to augment federal appropriations for biomedical research by establishing a trust fund dedicated to steady growth in research conducted at NIH, CDC, the Department of Defense, and the Veterans Health Administration. Congress should pass this bill and provide the resources needed to ensure robust future federal investments in medical research.

What do the American people have to gain? A lot.

Federal research dollars have contributed to development of new treatments and cures. Research supported by NIH and CDC have contributed to vaccines for diseases ranging from dengue fever to human papillomavirus to the seasonal flu. Just in the past few decades, we have dramatically improved treatment options for HIV/AIDs and breast cancer, among other conditions. These advances have improved the lives of millions of Americans.

When the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in 2011, they shifted the legislative focus from economic recovery to deficit reduction. Since then, every federal agency budget was cut to reduce the deficit. But cutting spending without considering the value of well-planned investments is counterproductive.

Making strategic, sustained investments in federally funded biomedical research keeps us competitive and healthy. A 2012 Milken Institute report concluded that every $1 increase in NIH funding leads to an increase in output of the bioscience industry by at least $1.70. And our global competitors are already starting to place a priority on their own research investments. Between 1999 and 2009, Asia's share of worldwide research and development expenditures grew from 24% to 32%, while American expenditures fell from 38% to 31%. In the meantime, the European Union has committed to a five-year plan to boost biomedical research.

We reap what we sow. Strong and sustained investment in biomedical research will build our capacity to develop lifesaving treatments and battle the spread of infectious diseases at home and around the globe.

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