August 23, 2012

Why aren’t the candidates talking about R&D?

Communications Officer

Next week marks a significant step in this year’s presidential elections, as Mitt Romney will become the official nominee for the Republican Party at its convention in Florida. Science and research will likely not appear on the agenda, as Romney, expected Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, and others will instead focus on topics like reducing federal spending. It’s unfortunate that research will not be a part of the conversation, as new predictions coming out this week indicate that if Romney and Ryan win the election in November, changes could be coming for health research and efforts to develop much-needed new tools for global health.

As a Nature article this week points out, Ryan—in his current position as chair of the House Committee on Appropriations—has created a federal budget plan that would, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, cut spending on non-defense research and development (R&D) by five percent, or $3.2 billion, below President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 request. Over the long term, Ryan’s approach would reduce funding for R&D to “historically small sizes,” according to Nature.

Equally concerning, Ryan’s approach to federally funded R&D could alter US government support for the later-stages of research to develop new health products, including clinical trials. While Ryan’s federal budget plan calls out support for basic research, it would reduce spending for projects deemed “best left to the private sector.” As Nature points out, some advocates “worry that this might include research such as clinical trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health for therapies from which the drug industry would be unlikely to profit.”

Global health R&D is an issue that Republicans and Democrats need to start talking about on the campaign trail.

This is an issue that Republicans and Democrats alike need to address. Research to develop new vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, microbicides, and other tools for neglected diseases unquestionably falls under the category of products from which private industry is unlikely to profit. For this reason, the US government has long worked with other partners to bridge this gap. Indeed, global health R&D has historically been a bipartisan issue in Congress that also spans Republican and Democratic presidential administrations, making the US government the largest funder of global health research in the world. And no matter the party in power, the US government can do more to maximize its investments in global health R&D by increasing its support for the later stages of research, as more global health products are moving into the final stages. This makes any proposal to reduce US spending for clinical trials even more worrisome.

It’s not just health advocates who want the candidates to talk about R&D issues. A new poll released this week by Research!America finds that voters want to hear about health research funding on the campaign trail. Ninety percent of voters said candidates should speak about medical research, in addition to issues such as tax reform and public education.

It’s important that the candidates—from Obama and Vice President Biden to Romney and Ryan—start talking about these issues head-on. And no matter which party takes the White House in November, support for global health R&D must continue.