October 1, 2009

Obama Pledges $5B For Medical Research

President Barack Obama unveiled on Wednesday a plan to invest $5 billion on medical and scientific research, medical supplies and upgrading laboratory capacity, something he said would create tens of thousands of new jobs over the next two years.

The funding, which will pay for 12,000 grant awards for leading-edge research into diseases such as cancer and AIDS, is part of the $787 billion economic stimulus package passed by Congress earlier this year. Institutions and researchers will have to apply for the grants.

The funds will be used for "cutting-edge medical research in every state across America," the White House said in a statement.

Obama made the announcement during a visit to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, Maryland.  The NIH often conducts or funds basic scientific research, and then licenses the findings to pharmaceutical or biotech companies to develop into products.

Twenty percent of the funds, or one billion dollars, will be allocated to research into the genetic causes of cancer and the development of targeted treatments.

President Obama also pledged substantial funds into research on autism, which affects an estimated 1 in 150 U.S. children.

"This kind of investment will also lead to new jobs: tens of thousands of jobs conducting research, manufacturing and supplying medical equipment, and building and modernizing laboratories and research facilities," said the President.

"The more than 12,000 grant awards ... are part of an overall $100 billion Recovery Act investment in science and technology to lay the foundation for the innovation economy of the future," said the White House in a statement.

Obama also touted his healthcare reform intiative, adding that generations of research "make no difference to the family that is dropped from an insurance policy when a child gets sick."

Obama also took a swipe at former president George W. Bush, who some accuse of staffing scientific advisory panels with conservatives with political ideology. 

"If we're honest, in recent years we've seen our leadership slipping as scientific integrity was at times undermined and research funding failed to keep pace," said Obama.

"We know that the work you do would not get done if left solely to the private sector. Some research does not lend itself to quick profit."

More than $1 billion of the funds will go to genomic research to study the DNA map to identify causes of diseases such as cancer, and to study new potential treatments.

"We are about to see a quantum leap in our understanding of cancer," NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told Reuters, adding that cancer occurs "when glitches in the DNA cause a good cell to go bad".

As head of the National Human Genome Research Institute, Collins led efforts to sequence the human genome.

"This ambitious effort promises to open new windows into the biology of all cancers, transform approaches to cancer research and raise the curtain on a more personalized era of cancer care," he said.

Some of the most successful cancer drugs, such as Novartis AG's Gleevec and Genentech's Herceptin and Avastin, target unique mutated genes.

The $5 billion investment includes $175 million for The Cancer Genome Atlas project to gather 20,000 tissue samples from patients suffering from more than 20 different types of cancer. The project aims to sequence all the genes and make the information freely available to researchers.


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