Omnibus budget bill recognizes importance of scientific research

With the omnibus spending bill, Congress showed that funding science is a bipartisan priority. Not only did the legislation include an increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as reported in the Dec. 16 article “Spending bill boosts NIH medical research by $2 billion,” it also included increases for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy Office of Science, veterans medical and prosthetic research and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This boost is long overdue. According to the NSF, from 2001 to 2011, the growth rate for R&D spending was nearly four times higher in China than in the United States. During that time period, the United States experienced a nearly 10 percent decline in its share of global R&D. This trend threatens our historic global leadership in science and technology.

Since 2003, the purchasing power of the NIH has declined by nearly 22 percent when corrected for inflation. As a result, the research community has had to cut back, delaying the development of treatments and cures that could help people worldwide.

To restore the discovery engine in the United States, scientists and engineers need sufficient funding. The increased funding for science in the omnibus bill is a good start. 

From Parker B. Antin, professor, the University of Arizona, president, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Tucson, Ariz.

Turing, Valeant created by industry

On Dec. 11, Stephen J. Ubl published a post on The Hill’s Congress Blog titled “Turing and Valeant do not represent biopharmaceutical industry.” The article wanted to talk about the costs of medicines, citing that the news media and the industry are united against price-abusing companies Valeant and Turing. Although the words of Mr. Ubl and the larger pharmaceutical industry do not fall on deaf ears, these companies are in fact outliers, I firmly hold that this blog post is missing the point.

Valeant and Turing were able to abuse systems that the industry set into place through years of lobbying and spending. The industry worked hard to create the priority review voucher system that Martin Shkreli is attempting to use as a reward for buying an existent drug, rather than creating a new medicine for rare diseases as the voucher is intended. The price-gouging that has gotten so much press, such as the 5,000 percent increase for toxoplasmosis drugs by Turing, is only a symptom of an entirely broken system.

Pharmaceutical companies are given only one motive: profit. In an industry with ubiquitous mission statements that call for “lifesaving therapeutics” or “innovative new solutions,” there seems to be a major lack of innovation or therapeutics for diseases that are not profitable. Even in the case that a drug is highly profitable, innovation is on the backburner — take the case of Gilead Sciences’s hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi. The medicine is sold at $1,000 per pill (more in combination with ledipasvir) yet is only property of Gilead after it purchased another company in its entirety. Gilead Sciences put in absolutely no innovation yet is reaping insurmountable awards. Now, the company is poised to acquire more projects off which to profiteer.

So yes, Mr. Ubl makes a good point that Turing and Valeant are not typical companies — they are in fact hedge funds that don’t build into the industry. But these comments come without any self-reflection on how those companies who do fit into the industry picture behave. We have to reconsider how and whether we’re actually incentivizing innovation or if we’re just creating profit-generating machines that are no better than Valeant or Turing.

From Justin Mendoza, Boston