To treat innovation ills, remove funding roadblocks

In 2013, the National Institutes of Health is estimated to have decreased expenditures by $1.7 billion. In the US, which is home to some of the finest scientists in the world, the work of even the very best researchers is in jeopardy. Scientific education programs are being cut back, and there is limited incentive for a new generation of scientists to undertake the years of training needed for success in our field. NIH Director Francis Collins has deemed the situation dire enough that 20,000 scientists could lose their jobs, a development he says could “[put] an entire generation of scientists at risk.”

We are losing ground in our ability to collaborate to make societal progress. Without adequate funding, the basic science that can change the health and lives of people the world over will dry up. The scientific achievement over the past two decades that has engendered new ways to address infection, cancer, cardiovascular disease and brain disorders will stall out. It is imperative that we continue to value – and fund - the enormous potential in that work, and the innovators who want nothing more than to bring it forward.

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In 2010, J&J responded to the UN Secretary General’s Call-to-Action for a renewed global effort to advance the Millennium Development Goals. We made a five-year commitment to reach 120 million women and children each year by 2015. Last month at the UN General Assembly meetings, we shared our progress against those goals. We piloted new innovations and expanded programs to make childbirth safer, to eliminate transmission of HIV from moms to babies, to treat children for worm infections and to make real headway in creating new medicines to treat infections.

And because we knew that the deadliest form of tuberculosis infection is on the rise but treatment regimens were still decades old, we set out to find a new drug to help. That drug was granted accelerated approval by FDA late last year - the first one in more than 40 years with a new mechanism of action to treat drug resistant tuberculosis. And while it isn’t a “blockbuster” in industry parlance, its development represents nothing short of a transformation for people dying from TB infection.

Progress happened because we had both the will and the resources to do what we do best – innovate science and healthcare at a scale that’s big enough to make a real difference in people’s lives. It took the effort of our own teams of scientists and the research conducted over many years by countless basic researchers at universities and in government labs. And it took partners like the TB Alliance and regulatory authorities such as the FDA and the EMA. Together, we are advancing science to match medical need, which is what all of us – medical scientists not just in academia but also in industry – live to do.

Success in bringing forward new innovation that really makes a difference to society is dependent on some key things. The scientists who work so hard to make discoveries and advance basic research must be supported. Society has to value the work they do and the life saving medicines they contribute to creating. In short, we need to work together to remove funding roadblocks that are threatening medical progress. Where there is a will, there is a way. Congress, do what’s right and fund basic research.

Stoffels is chief scientific officer and worldwide chairman of Pharmaceuticals at Johnson & Johnson.

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