Taxpayer Support Crucial in Hematology Research, But Beware

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Last week, more than 20,000 scientists, researchers, doctors, advocates and virtually everyone else associated with the world of blood disorders gathered in Atlanta for the 54th annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH).

It doesn't get much bigger than the annual ASH meeting. This is where everyone brings their best work and their biggest breakthroughs for presentation. Many of the great advances in the understanding and treatment of leukemia and lymphoma were first given airtime here.

Many of these breakthroughs may not have ever happened were it not for the funding provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and those at ASH know this full well. To highlight their point, this year they presented data from a survey of 1,040 abstract presenters to determine how many of them said that they relied on NIH funding.

Answer: 63 percent of them.

Said ASH President-Elect Janis Abkowitz, MD, of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle:

“Every year researchers and doctors across the globe look to the ASH annual meeting for breakthrough science. With nearly two-thirds of the U.S. presenters at this year’s annual meeting reporting that they rely on NIH funding, this survey shows unequivocally that those breakthroughs depend on NIH investment.”

Meanwhile, a full 86 percent of abstract presenters said that in their work they had referenced an NIH-funded study, either for their own research this year or for original research they had conducted some time during the course of their careers.

Worry Over Reduced NIH Funding

The survey also exposed the concern among today's research community regarding the continued availability of NIH funding, with three-quarters of survey respondents saying they're “extremely concerned” about the impact of reduced NIH funding, both in terms of how it would affect medical research and development, and how it might impact their own careers.

Fight for Hematology

ASH carried out the survey to coincide with their Fight for Hematology campaign. According to ASH, not only is the NIH's inflation-adjusted budget nearly 20 percent smaller than it was 10 years ago, but it is also facing sequestration, an across-the-board budget cut to all federally funded programs that is set to take place on January 2, 2013, unless Congress takes action to stop it. Learn more about Fight for Hematology.

The Problem with Funded Research

While I don't object to continued NIH funding into hematology research, it is nearly impossible for any sane person to agree with what often eventually comes of much of this research: it is licensed to pharmaceutical companies who then charge us consumers an arm and a leg for drugs they did nothing to create.

These licensing deals allow them to take ownership of a drug and they are inexplicably granted perks, including patent protection and tax breaks. It would sicken the average health care customer to learn just how much of his or her tax dollars are spent on the research and development of drugs that he or she will then be forced to buy from private pharmaceutical companies at astronomical prices.

What You Can Do

The only way to fight it is to write your Congressional representatives because only they can effect the kind of change that will result in the proper dissemination and development of this research. Otherwise, it's just an indirect way for big pharma to reap big profits.

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