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Humanity’s greatest accomplishment

Published 8:57pm Wednesday, July 23, 2014

By Rep. Randy Forbes

Americans once lived in fear of being struck by a disease that left its victims crippled and paralyzed. At the peak of its outbreak, upwards of 50,000 people were impacted each year. The disease didn’t discriminate in its victims. Children, adults, and even an American president faced the realities of the dreadful disease.

Americans clamored for a solution.

Steady and focused behind a laboratory door at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, a man researched, toiled and experimented. He tested and tried. He failed and tried again. He devoted his research to finding a cure.

In 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk’s research trials produced a breakthrough for humanity: a safe and effective polio vaccine.

Salk’s success points us to the brilliance behind the feat: medical research and discovery.

Our nation still faces the reality that similarly dreadful diseases have taken their toll on individuals for far too long. Diabetes, cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress, and a host of others — they are devastating to the people who live with them every day.

Yet, we have had few recent “game changing” breakthroughs that we can point to as a nation.

The United States is one of a few nations in the world equipped to usher in another one of humanity’s greatest medical accomplishments. What do we have going for us? The proven ability to kindle scientific potential into medical transformation.

Young people are inspired to pursue science, medicine and innovation, and they have access to remarkable tools at a very young age. American scientists are eager to lead a new era in medical discovery.

When those scientists step behind their laboratory doors, we cannot send them empty-handed and expect astonishing returns. Yet, that is what we’ve done, clamoring for solutions but unwilling to prioritize medical innovation.

Medical research is an engine of America’s competitiveness and inspires hope for millions of Americans. However, it requires resources and intention. As with any long-term investment, we cannot neglect it and expect valuable returns in the future.

Where do we begin?

  • Let’s start by putting patients ahead of politics. Our first step must be prioritizing funding for medical research that will provide the most benefit to patients in the most efficient manner possible.

Of course, medical research comes with great responsibility. From a budget vantage point, we have to ask tough questions: Are we making wise decisions? Is the research providing meaningful results? Are individuals directly benefiting?

By adjusting our federal spending priorities to research initiatives that bring immediate impact to the lives of Americans, we’ll approach research budgets responsibly, save billions in healthcare costs and usher in a new era in American medical discovery.

  • Next, let’s choose medical innovation over medical regulation.  The FDA process is too long and too bureaucratic. It stifles medical research. Our medical system will be successful when it’s modeled on innovation, driven by technology, and intent on discovery rather than slow, encumbering government red tape.
  • Let’s put medicine in the hands of researchers rather than bureaucrats. We need to get out of the business of buying into government-run “solutions” that only intensify the problem through higher taxes and less choice in our individual lives, and only get us deeper into debt.
  • Let’s find new ways to cure old diseases. Commonsense drug repurposing is already underway in many disease areas, like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, depression and sleep disorders. Encouraging drug repurposing is a critical avenue for discovering groundbreaking ways to combat — and ultimately cure — these devastating diseases.

We stand on the brink of incredible potential. We’ve laid the groundwork to catapult America forward in medical discovery. Scientists and researchers stand ready with plans etched for clinical trials. We’ve worked to inspire young students to take the reins in the research field. The question is whether we can carry that potential over the finish line and into applications that directly benefit the lives of Americans and others around the world.

What will humanity’s next greatest medical accomplishment be? I can’t be sure, but I know I want America leading the charge.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.

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