Now is the time to increase investment in research, not pare it back.
A DEADLINE is looming. This fall, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) runs the risk of losing a temporary fix by Congress that stabilized funding for research. That measure is set to expire in September, leaving the NIH severely underfunded. What does that mean for the nation? What does that mean for Washington state?
Frankly, it means the NIH would face the toughest funding environment in history. Already, the NIH can fund roughly 14 percent of research requests — about half the number funded a decade ago. This decline couldn’t come at a more crucial time. For example, while the 2014 Ebola outbreak reminded us of humanity’s vulnerability to infectious diseases, few know that almost 10,000 people will also die each day from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. In fact, these and other devastating, often overlooked, infectious diseases kill nearly 14 million people a year.
Washington state has a global reputation for pioneering scientific research. Life-sciences is a growing and important industry here: It accounts for more than $11 billion of the state’s gross domestic product and nearly 100,000 direct and indirect jobs. There are more than 550 companies and nonprofits in more than 70 cities across the state conducting groundbreaking and transformative scientific research. Without NIH funding, the overwhelming majority of these organizations simply would not exist. They were founded based on discoveries made from, or currently operate on, NIH-funded research.
Washington’s public and private biomedical research industry received $835 million last year from the NIH. There are institutions here researching cures for everything, from cancer and infectious diseases to Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease — none of which would be possible without the NIH.
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We have a rich history of producing lifesaving medical advancements, such as Dr. E. Donnall Thomas pioneering bone marrow transplants for leukemia and blood cancers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — Thomas won the Nobel Prize in 1990. PATH and partner organizations spent the last decade developing a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis, and this month Laos began vaccinating 1.5 million children with the lifesaving treatment.
Additionally, scientists from the Center for Infectious Disease Research (formerly Seattle BioMed) recently created a vaccine candidate for HIV/AIDS as well as a malaria vaccine candidate currently in human clinical trials. This wouldn’t be possible without NIH funding.
While technology and scientific understanding has reached the point where researchers are on the cusp of major scientific breakthroughs, NIH funding has stagnated, leaving 86 percent of research projects unfunded and jeopardizing lifesaving scientific discoveries. Now is the time to increase investment in research, not pare it back.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has been a longtime champion of the mission of the NIH and global health research. She was one of the architects of the current measure that restored pre-sequestration level funding to the NIH. Murray is once again working to build bipartisan support before the looming September deadline.
Scientists alone can’t end disease. Public support is crucial in advancing the science to eliminate infectious diseases, to cure cancer, to stop heart disease and to end countless other global health atrocities.
Everyone can play a role in supporting scientific research. You can start today by signing a petition, launched this week by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and a coalition of local global health organizations, urging Congress to increase critical funding for the NIH: change.org/p/fund-nih
Together we can build a healthier, more hopeful world.