The greatest impact would be on researchers who work on lesser-known but chronic diseases such as lupus. Dollars and infrastructure for lupus research have always lagged far behind the resources available to other diseases of similar severity and risk for mortality.
Lupus researchers, especially those in academic centers where most new discoveries and drugs originate, have already felt the effects of government belt-tightening in recent years. More cutbacks would set them back by years and could result in the loss of an entire generation of researchers.
The NIH currently funds most lupus research, with the Department of Defense and nonprofit groups, including the Lupus Foundation of America, providing the remaining dollars. Thanks to these sources, we have recently made progress and now have important clues to the origins and workings of this mysterious disease. Although many promising treatments have failed in clinical trials, we finally have the first drug specifically developed to treat lupus in more than 50 years, Benlysta.
Every day, people with lupus experience the implications of inadequate research funding for the disease. The absence of diagnostic tools means that they often wait years before getting an accurate diagnosis. And the dearth of new, safe treatments targeted to lupus means that the standard of care is to use immune suppressive drugs that were developed to treat other diseases and that are not properly tested or FDA-approved for lupus. These treatments often cause as many symptoms as they address, have the potential for immediate severe side effects, and a near-guarantee of long term toxicities.
We understand that cost-cutting is a necessary response during tough economic times. There are many good reasons, however, why Congress needs to prevent these draconian cuts from happening. Biomedical research impacts America in many ways: it contributes to the future of business, supports jobs in the field of biotechnology, and it makes us a leader in modern medicine. But, most importantly, we need to preserve funding for biomedical research because it means the difference between sickness and health for so many people.
Gilkeson, M.D., is chair of the Lupus Foundation of America’s Medical-Scientific Advisory Council and professor of medicine and associate dean of faculty affairs and faculty development at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C.
Merrill, M.D., is the medical director of the LFA head of the clinical pharmacology research program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and OMRF professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.