Investing in bio-medical research a bipartisan issue

A compelling op-ed piece by Newt Gingrich (Speaker of the House 1995-1999) appeared April 22, 2015, in the New York Times.

In a nutshell, the former Speaker of the House makes the case for doubling the budget of the National Institute of Health. He notes that in the highly partisan environment of Washington, D.C., in the 1990s the Republican majorities in both the House and Senate worked in a bipartisan fashion with President Clinton to double the NIH budget by 2003. Since then there has been a steady decline in NIH funding. Since 2003, successful grant applications to National Institute on Aging (one of the units of NIH) have dropped from the top 20 percent to the top 8 percent now. Very promising research is simply not getting funded. The current low success rate of grant applications has discouraged some of the best and brightest American students from pursuing careers in medical research.

Gingrich points out that the cost of caring for patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementias will exceed $20 trillion over the next four decades, more than quadrupling the costs to Medicare and tripling Medicaid expenditures. Even without a cure, if research could find a way to delay the average disease onset by five years it would reduce the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s in 2050 by 42 percent and cut costs by a third. At present, for each penny the NIH spends on Alzheimer’s research, we spend $3.50 on caring for patients with this condition. Doubling the NIH budget ultimately will reduce, not increase, the Federal deficit.

The former Speaker says: “Even as we’ve let financing for basic scientific and medical research stagnate, government spending on health care has grown significantly. That should trouble every fiscal conservative. As a conservative myself, I’m often skeptical of government “investments.” But when it comes to breakthroughs that could cure — not just treat — the most expensive diseases, government is unique. It alone can bring the necessary resources to bear. And it is ultimately on the hook for the costs of illness. It’s irresponsible and shortsighted, not prudent, to let financing for basic research dwindle.”

We concur entirely and could not have stated the case more clearly. Biomedical research is not a partisan matter. Brain disorders, cancers and many other medical conditions may seem random, but understanding disease at the genetic, molecular and cellular levels will lead to treatments and eventually cures.

Please support this very wise national investment in improving the quality of life for aging Americans and damping down the coming tsunami in costs of care for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. We urge our congressional delegation in Washington to join the movement to reverse the decline in NIH funding and work towards doubling its budget. Montana can also play a crucial role by becoming one of a handful of states that provide meaningful funds for peer-reviewed research grants to scientists in their own states. We urge our governor and Legislature to consider this next session.

— Column submitted by the following: George Carlson is the director of the McLaughlin Research Institute for Biomedical Sciences in Great Falls. Randy Gray is chairman of the board for McLaughlin Research Institute. John Goodnow is the CEO Benefis Health System in Great Falls. Marc Racicot is a former Republican governor of Montana. Brian Schweitzer is a former Democratic governor of Montana.