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The American Federation for Medical Research Says Daschle Must Cure Clinical Research Crisis if Change Is To Take Hold in U.S. Health Care System
Date:12/11/2008

BOSTON, Dec. 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Federation for Medical Research (AFMR) announces its full support of Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's appointment to the post of Health and Human Services secretary. Mr. Daschle will serve as President-elect Obama's top administration official to overhaul the nation's health care system.

As a result of its work since 1940, the AFMR believes firmly that improving clinical research in the U.S., which weakened significantly during the Bush administration, is a lynchpin to achieving sustainable change in the U.S. health care system. The AFMR pledges the full support of its human resources, medical expertise and scientific knowledge to Mr. Daschle and the Obama administration for the advancement of clinical research, including its leading U.S. physician members and Nobel laureates who have made significant contributions to modern medicine and patient care through clinical research.

"Medical science and the U.S. health care system cannot progress without clinical research," said Dr. Alan Buchman, president of the AFMR and a prominent physician in gastroenterology. "Yet our nation has neglected the advancement of clinical research -- that which involves patients directly -- which can prevent disease, lead to more effective disease treatments, medical breakthroughs for chronic diseases, and cut the astronomical costs and inefficiencies that plague our health care system. Mr. Daschle has the opportunity to fix this fundamental issue early on, which will have an enormous positive ripple effect on the rest of the health care system," said Buchman.

The U.S. clinical research crisis stems from two primary issues: 1) Federal budget cuts for the NIH, particularly in funds spent on clinical research and the education and training of future clinical investigators and physician-scientists, and 2) Lack of support for future physician-scientists, whose job it will be to bring modern medicine and quality patient care to future generations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic diseases account for seven out of 10 deaths in the U.S. and for 75% of every health care dollar spent each year. Yet federal funding for clinical research has decreased in recent years, and funding that has been apportioned, has gone mainly to basic research rather than clinical research - the only kind of research that generates disease-specific breakthroughs and patient treatment alternatives.

The NIH budget for the current fiscal year, $29.2 billion, represents a $329 million increase over last year, but the actual growth for NIH programs is much less because $200 million of the increase was earmarked for the Department of State Global HIV/AIDS fund. When the $200 million is subtracted from the budget, the actual increase in NIH programs is reduced to just $133 million (0.5%) over last year. It is not yet known how the FY 2009 budget will be impacted, although the statement accompanying the signed bill from President Bush indicated his intention to submit an FY 2009 budget proposal that will "once again restrain spending."

One program impacted by the tightening of the NIH budget is the Clinical Translational Science Award program (CTSA) -- the NIH-supported clinical research program intended to speed the translation of scientific discovery to the treatment of patients. As a result of the cuts, the NIH is unable to fully fund the evolution and expansion of the CTSA program, which has become a critical training and research structure for junior investigators.

Another alarming issue is the growing scarcity of human resources in the clinical research field. The current generation of physician investigators is aging rapidly and there aren't enough investigators to replace them because support for new investigators entering the field has decreased significantly in recent years.

According to the NIH, the average age of physician scientists in 1980 was 39. By 2015, the average age is expected to be 52. If action is not taken now, the U.S. will face a critical shortage of qualified physician investigators within the next decade, creating a massive knowledge gap between aging physicians and the next generation of physicians.

"The cost of not advancing research and training future physician scientists is one that will be paid by the entire world. The United States is a global feeder pool of physician scientists," said Buchman. "A further breakdown in clinical research and failure to revitalize the physician-scientist workforce of the future will impact medical breakthroughs, treatments and critical training throughout the world. The pharmaceutical industry cannot be counted on to undertake clinical research alone, and from an economic standpoint, clinical research dollars are being focused away from the U.S. and concentrated on China and India."

The AFMR is an international, multi-disciplinary association of physician scientists engaged in all areas of patient-oriented clinical, translational and laboratory research. The organization promotes understanding of advances in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, facilitates the exchange of ideas and information among physicians and investigators concerned with the treatment of disease and works to improve public health by fostering research across medical disciplines through public policy initiatives and educational programs. The AFMR also works to develop future generations of clinical researchers through its own programs, while encouraging public, private, and governmental investment in such initiatives.

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SOURCE American Federation for Medical Research
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