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FASEB Washington Update - June 01, 2011

Posted on: 06/01/2011

On May 26, 2011, Dr. Kevin Kregel, Professor of Integrative Physiology and Radiation Oncology at the University of Iowa and Chair of FASEB’s Subcommittee on Animals in Research and Education, testified at the first public meeting of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee appointed to address the use of chimpanzees in National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research. NIH commissioned IOM to conduct this study when the impending transfer of 176 semi-retired chimpanzees from the Alamogordo Primate Facility to the Southwest National Primate Research Center caused extensive outcry from the public, including the former governor of New Mexico.

Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, began the meeting by explaining the statement of task to the committee, which requires the panel to explore the “use of chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research that will be needed for the advancement of the public’s health.” While she acknowledged that the ethical argument would likely arise in their conversations, she urged the committee to try to focus solely on the scientific need for chimpanzees in research. Following Dr. Rockey’s charge, Dr. Harold Watson, Program Director for Nonhuman Primate Resources in the Division of Comparative Medicine at the National Center for Research Resources and Dr. Richard Nakamura, Scientific Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, discussed how their respective institutes utilize chimpanzees in research.

A panel including Dr. Kregel, Dr. Jarrod Bailey, Geneticist and Scientific Advisor to the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, and Dr. John Pippin, Senior Medical and Research Adviser for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine was then convened to discuss whether there is a continued need for research using chimpanzees. Bailey claimed that chimpanzees do not make good models for human disease based on genetic differences, while Pippin spoke about alternative models in lieu of the use of chimps. Dr. Kregel’s presentation focused on why chimpanzees have, and continue to be, critical for the development of vaccines and treatments for viral infections, how they are used in the development and safety testing of monoclonal antibodies, their role in developing countermeasures against bioterrorism, and the importance of chimp research for sustaining wild chimp populations. An important point made by Dr. Kregel (and earlier in the meeting by Dr. Watson) is that while other countries do not themselves own chimpanzees, they are dependent on the use of U.S. owned chimps for their research. This underscored the importance and validity of this animal model in the development of therapeutics and in the safety testing of newly developed medications. In his conclusion, Dr. Kregel stated that, “Since we cannot predict the future, it would be irresponsible to abandon the use of a certain species, which is extremely close to humans in terms of physiology and immunology. We have a responsibility to the population of research chimpanzees in the U.S., but we also have a responsibility for the lives and health of human beings.” The IOM has two more meetings scheduled for August and October with the final report scheduled to be released in December.

Posted on: 06/01/2011

In addition, the House staged a symbolic vote on a bill authored by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) to increase the debt limit by the $2.4 trillion necessary to allow the federal government to continue meeting its obligations through the end of 2012. The Camp legislation was overwhelmingly defeated 97-318, although the outcome was never in doubt. Republican leaders sought to demonstrate to Democrats and President Obama that they have leverage in the deficit-reduction negotiations and claimed the vote was a clear indication that additional spending cuts will be needed to secure their support for an increase in the debt limit.

Despite a few more weeks of intense discussions on budgetary matters, Congress appears to be no closer to reaching an agreement on a deficit reduction plan or a strategy for addressing the debt limit than lawmakers were a month ago. As the bipartisan “Biden Group” continued negotiations about potential cuts to mandatory and discretionary programs, tax policy, and other fiscal issues, the House Appropriations Committee voted 27-21 to approve the 302(b) allocations that were released on May 11th to provide the 12 subcommittees with their individual spending levels. No changes were made to the overall funding cap of $1.019 trillion, which is consistent with the House Budget Resolution drafted by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI). Although no decisions have been made yet about funding levels for specific programs, the spending cap will force significant reductions in funding for non-security programs. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) has contacted members of the House from both parties to urge Congress not to cut funding for research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, or the competitive research program at the Department of Agriculture.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate held a series of its own symbolic votes on four competing fiscal year 2012 budget plans. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wanted to force Republicans to take a stand on the Ryan proposal, while Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) felt that Democrats should have to vote on the budget President Barack Obama released in February. In the end, the Senate failed to approve any of the plans. The Ryan budget (H Con Res 34) failed by a vote of 40–57, with five Republicans and all Democrats voting against the plan. Obama’s budget (S Con Res 18) was rejected 0-97. Competing proposals from Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Toomey (R-PA) were voted down as well. Senator Paul’s proposal (S Con.Res 20) would bring the budget into balance in five years by significantly reducing defense funding and eliminating the Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development. The Toomey plan (S Con Res 21), which received more support than all of the other proposals, attempted to balance the budget in nine years by capping spending at 18.4 percent of gross domestic product (the current level is approximately 22 percent). Given that the Senate rejected all of the major proposals that have been introduced to date, the “Biden Group” discussions may be the only remaining vehicle through which Congress will be able to reach a final deal on the budget.

In non-fiscal news, both the House and Senate approved the Small Business Additional Temporary Extension Act of 2011 (S 990). The legislation continues the existing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, which were due expire on May 31st, through September 30, 2011. President Obama signed the legislation into law on May 26th. A three-year SBIR/STTR reauthorization bill (HR 1425) drafted by Representative Renee Ellmers (R-NC) was approved by the House Small Business and Science, Space and Technology Committees earlier in May. An alternative proposal (S 493) from Senate Small Business Committee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-LA) was pulled from consideration after Senators refused to end debate on the measure. FASEB supports the reauthorization of the SBIR and STTR programs but opposes a provision in the Senate bill that would increase the current percentage of the portion of federal agency science budgets that must be devoted to small business research from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent. HR 1425 does not increase the "set-aside" percentage.

The Senate has recessed for the Memorial Day holiday, although the House remains in session. In a terrific development for the scientific community, prior to adjourning the Senate approved the nomination of Dr. Cora B. Marrett to be Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Marrett has held several senior positions at NSF, serving as Assistant Director for both Education and Human Resources and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences. More recently she was a Senior Advisory in the Office of the Director where she oversaw the activities of the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. Before coming to NSF, Marrett was the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Wisconsin. FASEB has a long-standing relationship with Dr. Marrett and is looking forward to working with her in her new position.

Posted on: 06/01/2011

On May 26th, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) partnered with the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research to host a Capitol Hill briefing entitled, “Advancing Discovery: Assessing the Health Impacts of the Gulf Oil Spill.” The event was the latest installment in an ongoing series of activities to highlight how the nation’s investment in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is fostering scientific discoveries to enhance the health and well-being of the American people. NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) recently launched the largest study of its kind to examine how oil spills and exposure to crude oil and dispersants are affecting the health and quality of life of the cleanup workers and volunteers who responded to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

A standing-room only crowd listened as Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, chairman of FASEB’s Membership Committee and an assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Washington Medical Center, welcomed congressional staff and individuals from medical research and environmental advocacy organizations. Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA) and David Price (D-NC) also gave opening remarks commending NIH for their efforts to learn from the oil spill in order to protect other communities in the future. Price also expressed frustration that NIH could face severe budget constraints in fiscal year 2012 if the overall funding levels proposed by the House Appropriations Committee are approved by Congress.

NIEHS Director, Dr. Linda Birnbaum, provided an overview of the Gulf Long-Term Follow-up Study, which is underway to assess both the short and long-term health effects associated with exposure to the Deepwater Horizon spill. 55,000 clean-up workers and volunteers from the Gulf Coast states are scheduled to be enrolled in the study. Over time the research will generate important data that may help inform policy decisions on health care and health services in the Gulf region. Birnbaum also described the NIEHS Worker Education Training Program (WETP) that provides specialized instruction for individuals who respond to natural disasters and assist with hazardous waste clean-up. Within a few days of the spill, WETP printed and distributed 5,000 booklets in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese to clean-up workers in the Gulf to educate them about oil spill exposures, hazards, and risks. Dr. Birnbaum was followed by Dr. Kim Anderson, professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at Oregon State University, who discussed her research on efforts to study the long-term effects of oil spills. Materials from the briefing are available on the Ad Hoc Group’s website.
Dr. Jeff Schwartz, Chair of the FASEB Membership Committee, introduces Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA) and David Price (D-NC).
NIEHS Director, Dr. Linda Birnbaum, describes research underway at NIH to study how exposure to crude oil and chemical dispersants is affecting the health of the clean-up workers who responded to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Posted on: 06/01/2011

On May 24th, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee passed its fiscal year (FY) 2012 funding bill which would fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at a level of $225 million, $40 million (15 percent) below the enacted level of $265 million in the full year FY 2011 “continuing resolution.” A press release issued by the subcommittee states, “While trimming spending, this funding level will continue to support important and high-priority research on devastating crop diseases, emerging chemical and biological threats, food safety, and water quality. The funding will also maintain the nation’s research investment in land-grant and other agricultural colleges and universities.” The budget provided for AFRI in the bill is $100 million below the President’s FY 2012 request of $325 million.

Under the bill, funding for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which oversees the AFRI competitive grants program, was set at $1.02 billion. A mark-up summary table, the complete bill text, statements by Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston (R-GA), and Ranking Sam Member Farr (D-CA), are available on the subcommittee website. During the 30-minute mark-up of the bill, the only amendment considered was offered by Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and would have improved broadband access. It was rejected. The full House Appropriations Committee plans to mark up the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill on May 31st.

Earlier this month, FASEB submitted a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees requesting that AFRI be supported at a funding level of $500 million in FY 2012.

Posted on: 06/01/2011

Last week, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC) discussed the importance of biomedical research to U.S. competitiveness and prosperity in a hearing entitled, Driving Innovation and Job Growth through the Life Sciences Industry.” Although much of the hearing focused on ways in which the government can incentivize businesses to invest in research and development (R&D), several committee members took the opportunity to acknowledge that federally funded basic research is critical to the vitality of the life sciences industry. In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) said, “The federal government continues to play a significant role in funding basic research. That research increases our general base of knowledge and creates the building blocks for future products.”

Witnesses included University City Science Center President Dr. Stephen Tang, Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute President Mr. Thomas Kowalksi, Lexicon Pharmaceuticals President Dr. Arthur Sands, and National Venture Capital Association President Mr. Mark Heesen. In addition to praising the positive economic outcomes of investment in biomedical research, several on the panel urged Congress to change a provision in current law that prohibits companies majority owned by venture capital interests from participating in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. In response to a question on the issue from Senator Casey, Mr. Heesen said, “The National Institutes of Health has stated that they’re seeing the quality of their (SBIR) applications deteriorate because venture-backed companies…are precluded from taking part in the SBIR program.”

In addition to hearing the witness testimony, Senator Casey and committee ranking member Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) announced that they plan to introduce the Life Sciences Jobs and Investment Act, which would allow taxpayers to take advantage of an increased R&D tax credit or return foreign earnings tax-free to the U.S. for investment in the R&D industry. “Investment in R&D in life sciences creates good high-paying jobs, keeps the U.S. on the cutting edge of global competitiveness, and enhances the quality of life not only for Americans, but for people everywhere,” noted Representative Brady. A webcast of the hearing is available on the JEC website.