Dec 01 2011
Throughout human history, medical research has been responsible for hundreds of ground-breaking discoveries that have improved and saved lives, enabled healthcare to become more effective and efficient, and lowered overall healthcare costs. In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming forever changed the landscape of modern medicine with his discovery of penicillin. In the years that followed, researchers and scientists discovered that genes are made of DNA, polio can be prevented with a vaccine, and lives can be saved with organ transplants.
Research has also led to the development of medical equipment such as x-ray machines, MRI technology, and lasers, which have enhanced the ability of medical professionals to diagnose and treat their patients. By harnessing decades of research, cancer mortality rates have steadily declined since 1990 and today more than 12 million Americans are cancer survivors. The mortality rate from heart disease has dropped by 60% and the rate for stroke victims has also declined by 70% in recent decades.
Our nation has long recognized the importance of a sustained commitment to advancing medical research. Congress’ long-standing, bipartisan support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been an integral part of establishing the United States as a world leader in research and innovation. Scientists and researchers at NIH, the focal point of our nation’s medical research, play a critical role in the initial stages of research—laying the groundwork for the private sector to develop new drugs and treatments.
I recently had the opportunity to see firsthand how medical research is being translated into new treatments during a visit to the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD—the nation’s largest hospital devoted entirely to clinical research. The Center is uniquely designed to enable researchers to work directly alongside a wide range of specialists, who deliver the best possible care to patients with the most advanced treatments available. This powerful arrangement has led to a long list of revolutionary medical discoveries, including the development of chemotherapy for cancer, the first tests to detect AIDS/HIV, and the first treatment of AIDS.
Given the vast amount of progress made over the last century and the great potential current research holds, now is not the time to waiver on America’s commitment to advancing disease cures and treatments. Medical research leading to successful discoveries often takes years, requiring the institutional knowledge and intellect of numerous highly qualified, committed researchers. If researchers cannot rely on consistent support from Congress, we will squander current progress, stunt America’s global competitiveness, and lose younger generations of doctors and scientists to alternative career paths.
In September, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2012 that reduced the NIH budget by $190 million over the FY2011 level. To support the ongoing pursuit of life-changing medical discoveries, I offered an amendment in the committee markup of the bill to restore funding to the NIH budget by making small reductions to other programs.
My amendment was fully offset and would have prioritized medical research without adding a dime to our nation’s annual deficit. I offered this amendment to send a clear signal to our nation’s researchers and scientists that Congress supports their work and will make sure they have the resources needed to carry out their important research.
My commitment to medical research remains steadfast and I will continue to work throughout the ongoing appropriations process to address this priority. Despite significant advances in research over the last few decades, much work still remains. In our country, heart disease and cancer are still the leading causes of death for both men and women.
Each year, heart disease claims the lives of more loved ones than any other disease, and cancer takes an additional person’s life every minute, each day. It is estimated that one out of every three women and one out of every two men will develop cancer during their lifetime. But history demonstrates that with a strong commitment to medical research, we can change these statistics.
The next century holds great promise for future discoveries. By investing in medical research, we are investing in our future. In my home state of Kansas, the bioscience industry has grown at a faster rate than the national sector since 2001. This growth opens the doors for new medical and technological advancements. Kansas has already become a leader in advancing biomedical and bioscience research.
One such example is the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), to be built adjacent to Kansas State University in Manhattan and estimated to be operational in the next few years. This state-of-the-art biosecurity lab will replace our country’s antiquated foreign animal research facility at Plum Island, NY, which has a limited capacity to respond to animal disease threats.
NBAF will also accelerate the development of vaccines, antivirals and diagnostics to protect our country’s food supply and agriculture economy from foreign animal disease outbreaks introduced into our country naturally, accidentally or deliberately by terrorists.
A second example is the University of Kansas Cancer Center (KUCC) in Kansas City, which in September formally applied to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to become an NCI-designated Cancer Center. NCI is a component of NIH, and our nation’s principal agency for cancer research and training. Obtaining NCI designation would dramatically enhance KUCC’s ability to discover, develop, and deliver innovative treatments to patients in our state, improving their quality of life.
Currently, there are 66 NCI-designated cancer centers across the country—but none in Kansas. With NCI designation, KUCC patients would have access to the latest clinical trials and the most advanced cancer treatments close to home. Because NCI designation is the highest recognition for an academic cancer center, KUCC would also be better positioned to recruit the brightest researchers and scientists to develop cutting-edge treatments and cures in Kansas.
Another example is the Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research (CIBOR) at Wichita State University. Wichita has long been known as the “Air Capital of the World,” because of its long history of aviation manufacturing. At CIBOR, physicians, engineers, and scientists are using composite materials developed by aviation manufacturers to improve advanced medical devices, such as artificial knees and hips. This unprecedented research partnership between the healthcare and aviation sectors is generating new devices to improve patients’ lives.
Medical research also helps create thousands of jobs and drives economic growth across our country. NIH directly supports 350,000 jobs nationwide, and indirectly drives more than 6 million jobs across our country.
United for Medical Research, a coalition of many of the nation’s leading scientific research institutions and industries, estimates that in 2010, NIH investment led to the creation of nearly 490,000 quality jobs and produced more than $68 billion in new economic activity across the country. The biomedical industry alone has shown faster job growth when compared to other industries, and consistently offers higher wages—exceeding the national average by more than $24,000.
Finally, medical research lowers costs by advancing treatments to chronic, debilitating diseases and improving early detection and wellness promotion. During a Senate Appropriations health subcommittee hearing earlier this year, I asked NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins to explain how medical research at NIH could reduce healthcare spending. In his response, he pointed to the potential impact of medical research on Alzheimer disease.
Today, annual costs related to Alzheimer disease are roughly $180 billion and are expected to rise to roughly $1 trillion by 2050. However, medical research leading to treatments that delay the onset of Alzheimer disease could not only bring hope to thousands of families, but also save billions of dollars. Director Collins also highlighted how research contributed to reducing the mortality rate for heart attack victims by 60% in recent decades, at a cost amounting to just $3.70 per American.
Medical research has changed the lives of millions of Americans and has the potential to impact millions more because the possibilities are endless. But in order to plan for the future, scientists and researchers need certainty.
Today, Congress faces the difficult task of identifying our government’s funding priorities, while at the same time righting our nation’s fiscal course. Moving forward, I will continue to advocate for fiscal responsibility, and I will also prioritize programs that effectively serve the American people.
Our consistent, sustained support of medical research is essential to saving and improving lives, growing our economy, and maintaining America’s role as a global leader in medical innovation. This commitment will benefit our children and our country for generations to come.