When Gerald Ford accepted his party’s nomination for president in 1976, the five-year relative survival rate for individuals with cancer was just under 50%. When Barack Obama accepted his first nomination in 2008, it was nearly 70%.
As I participated on innovation panels at both the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions, I was reminded of the fact that the next president of the United States will govern at a time when an increasing number of cancers and other debilitating conditions are treatable. What began in the 1990s and early 2000s—after years of complicated, risky and costly research—is now coming to fruition.
From 1997 to 2007, the death rate associated with cardiovascular diseases dropped by nearly 28%. Just a few years ago, a cure for hepatitis C didn’t exist—today, it does. Advancements in regenerative medicine, once thought impossible, are literally helping to restore tissues and organs.
Without question, we are in the midst of the most consequential period of medical invention and discovery that I’ve experienced in my lifetime. As a result of incremental breakthroughs over time, “science fiction” is becoming “science real.”
It can be difficult to imagine a world without conditions like Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease or macular degeneration. Disease has been ingrained into society for too long.
This mindset won’t change overnight, but a true test for public and private sector leaders alike is whether there’s a willingness to understand, appreciate and invest in the vast complexity of science–and its surrounding influences.
For example, our reimbursement system in the U.S. hasn’t kept pace with scientific advancements.
The science of medical invention is becoming more difficult and more expensive at a time when payers are less willing to pay for it. What is viewed as an achievement or breakthrough to one part of the healthcare system is viewed as a hurdle to another.
The promise of invention and discovery requires a vastly different mentality shaped by three interconnected questions:
First, how do we put the patient at the center of every decision we make, from the laboratory to the bedside, from the boardroom to formulary committees, from the halls of Congress to the FDA? Too often, decisions throughout our healthcare system are made without factoring in the direct interests of patients. This needs to change.
Second, what if we viewed medicine and medical invention as key elements of our nation’s economic and global competitiveness strategy? Our own biopharmaceutical sector generated the largest share—23% of R&D investment in U.S. manufacturing industries between 2000 and 2010.
Consider that in FY 2015 the National Institutes of Health’s total budget was $30.3 billion, with only a portion devoted to funding basic and applied research. In contrast, biopharmaceutical companies invested more than $58.8 billion on basic and applied research the same year.
Even if NIH devoted its entire budget to research—an impossibility, given its other operational needs—it would amount to barely half of what the private sector invests. Preserving our industry’s ability to make such investments is vital.
Third, what if we could look five or ten years into the future and align public policy priorities with the prospect of achieving new breakthroughs? In other words, and as we’ve seen with the 21st Century Cures initiative in Congress, policy has and will continue to matter.
In the current election cycle, voters are onboard. A recent Galen Institute/Center Forward poll of battleground state voters found that nearly eight out of ten want members of Congress to pursue the types of policies that will lead to new treatments and cures. Two-thirds of voters support the next president prioritizing these efforts in his/her first 100 days. Nearly all view them as an opportunity for the U.S. to maintain its competitive edge.
The Innovators of Tomorrow
With science becoming more complex, innovation in silos is no longer viable or practical. The Cancer Moonshot and Precision Medicine Initiatives—made possible by industry, government, academia and other stakeholders working closely together—reinforce the level of enthusiasm for collaboration and bold thinking.
Initiatives like MATTER—a healthcare start-up incubator based in Chicago—are helping to spur new partnerships between big and small companies. Similar to the research seeds that were planted 10-15 years ago, we should be encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs who will be the innovators of tomorrow.
Regardless of this year’s election outcome, we’re long overdue to rethink how we value and support what results from decades of costly research and discovery. As a nation, we shouldn’t delay or deprioritize the steps that separate us from the breakthrough treatment or cure for any number of devastating and costly diseases.
While hard to imagine or appreciate in the abstract, they are steps we can all agree are worth taking.