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The NIH Director

Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s Speech in Support of NIH

November 11, 2011

Mr. Speaker, last year when I was chair of the Joint Economic Committee, we held a hearing on the pivotal role of government investment in basic research. We found that basic research spurs exactly the kind of innovations that business leaders, academics and policymakers have all identified as critical for our nation's economic growth. But we also found that the private sector tends to underfund basic research because it is undertaken with no specific commercial applications in mind. Businesses understandably concentrate their research and development spending on the development of products and processes that may have direct commercial value. A report produced by the Joint Economic Committee showed that the federal government funds almost 60% of basic research in the U.S. and highlighted one study that estimated that actual expenditures in the United States may be less than half of what the optimal levels would be.

We are now engaged in an important national debate about how much and where to cut federal spending, and I wish to make the case for how reckless and shortsighted it would be to cut into the budget lines that fund the kind of vital, basic research that led to discovery, innovation, and economic growth. Because doing so would be, as that bit of old folk wisdom goes, like cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Take the budget for the National Institutes of Health, for example. The N.I.H. strongly supports the kind of basic, scientific research that may not be directly useful in creating practical products yet. But it's precisely this kind of research that can lead to the future development of new and undreamed of biotech and pharmaceutical advances. It is work that can lead to the kind of advances that will allow the establishment of new products, grow new businesses, and produce private-sector jobs.

Studies have shown that the money we spend supporting such scientific research is one of the best investments our country can make. For instance, out in Los Angeles, UCLA generates almost $15 in economic activity for every taxpayer dollar that it invested, resulting in a $9.3 billion, with a big, billion dollar impact on the Los Angeles region. In Houston, Texas, the estimated economic impact of Baylor is more than $358 million, generating more than 3,300 jobs. In my own district in New York, Dr. Samie Jaffrey, a pharmacologist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College, has just recently developed a promising new technology for studying RNA in cells, and has just started a biotech company, all with N.I.H. support.

Time and time again, basic research has been a game changer and an economic incubator. Take the biotechnology company Genentech as an example. It was founded on discoveries that were made within our universities, and those discoveries were made with financial support of grants from the National Institutes of Health. And those federal funds proved to be a very good investment. Genentech has created over 11,000 jobs, and the company created products that have had major effects on the health and economic well being of our nation. Genentech developed drugs that treat certain leukemia, arthritis, and breast cancer.

N.I.H.-funded research has also had a major impact on the lives of those suffering from multiple sclerosis. M.S. is a very painful, painful disease that often strikes young women with children. Thanks to N.I.H. research, drugs have been developed that are now in the marketplace that mean M.S. patients now live longer and have higher quality lives.

Since 1970, over 150 new F.D.A.-approved drugs and vaccines or new indications for existing drugs have been discovered in university laboratories, most funded by N.I.H.

And millions of Americans are hoping that somewhere, just over the horizon, there will be new discoveries and new breakthroughs leading to more effective treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, AIDS, autism, bacteria, ADHA, schizophrenia, and depression, and much more. But treating these and other diseases will depend on discoveries yet to be made, discoveries of basic science, discoveries that can only be made with the federal funding and the work of agencies like the N.I.H.

I suspect that to some, this must just sound like pie in the sky. But just think back into our not too distant past, think back to the polios of the 1950s , to the children who were crippled, and to the patients in iron lungs. Think back to 30 years ago when almost all the children who were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma were not expected to live more than five years. Think back to the time when AIDS was the equivalent of a death sentence. Polio is now eradicated; the five-year survival rate for NHL is over 84%; and AIDS is treatable, survivable. This is all because of basic research, much of which was funded by the N.I.H., because of the basic research we have funded and made possible, because of our past investments in our nation’s future. The founding fathers had the wisdom and the foresight to write into the constitution a role for the federal government in promoting the progress of science and useful arts. If we are to remain competitive in the global economy, if we hope to remain a leader in biotechnology, if we hope to continue to advance the world's understanding and treatment of diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, we must continue to invest in the basic research and in the dedicated young scientists who make it all possible. I yield back. Thank you.

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U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney’s speech before the House in support of scientific research:
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