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What Now: It Still Takes Too Long and Costs Too Much

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It's not difficult to build a case that the federal government shutdown was just one more straw on the camel's back for medical research and innovation in the United States. Whether it was the voice of a new mother with sarcoma trying to gain entry to a National Institutes of Health Clinical Center trial, or a researcher lamenting the uncertainty in the funding climate, or news that during the shutdown of the Food and Drug Administration halted the review and approval of new treatments, or photos of the empty room at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tracks global pandemics -- coverage about the shutdown was peppered with examples of how relevant U.S. federal agencies are to innovation. Their work is a critical part of the fabric of innovation that takes place in a multitude of locations -- at universities, in companies, in clinics, and in the nonprofit sector.

In recent decades, investment in biomedical research has transformed scientific discoveries into medicines, vaccines, diagnostics, and devices that improve and save people's lives. Yet the flow of funding into this area, both public and private, has slowed due to a retreat from risk, regulatory hurdles, and other issues. Nevertheless, a tremendous range of promising, innovative research is underway, backed by industry and public-private partnerships, and a growing number of leaders are recognizing the value of such investments. Now is the time to lean in and ensure everyone understands the value proposition and relevance to patients and the economy, because it already takes too long to get from an idea to a treatment.

While we assess the damage of the shutdown, and regroup and prepare for the next round of cuts from sequestration and tight budgets, the rest of the world is marching on. I can say with certainty that outside the United States, many people looked at us incredulously because Day One of the shutdown coincided with the Milken Institute London Summit. There I led a panel discussion, "Funding Medical Breakthroughs: Enriching Society," with science policy leaders from the United Kingdom and European Commission as well as from a global pharmaceutical company. It was a fast-paced discussion that traversed a wide terrain: from the big challenges in getting ahead of diseases of the aging to the assets that patients bring to research (e.g., clinical trial participation or biobank donations) to the universal sentiment that we can no longer have inward-looking medical research and must forge collaborations. Panelists were optimistic about the promise that long-term investments in science have offered, as well as about the power of data, information, and the genome to give us keys to new treatment pathways. Because we know that diseases won't wait.

Collaboration in medical research is a game changer. To collaborate, to band together, to cooperate, to conspire, to unite. Whatever synonym you choose, it can add up to time and potentially cost savings. Our current model of discovery costs too much and so we need to look for savings wherever possible. Evidence of collaborative models is abundant at our upcoming Partnering for Cures conference, where we'll highlight 30 innovator presentations profiling cross-sector collaborations aimed at reducing the time and cost of getting new medical solutions from discovery to patients. In an upcoming FasterCures report "Consortia-pedia," we look closely at the emerging model and the future of collaboration by consortium. Research by consortia is here to stay. There are now more than 250 consortia creating opportunities to contribute to research. Many consortia focus on creating tools that will benefit the entire biomedical research sector. Government plays a major role as does industry, academia, and foundations. Asia is just starting to work in this space, but the European Union has already bypassed the United States in terms of consortia based in a geographic location.

Much ado about nothing? Perhaps, but in a 2012 United for Medical Research paper, it was clear that although other nations may face similar budgetary challenges, these countries are choosing to increase investments in biomedical research. Data supporting the value of this investment are vast, and it impacts the scientific workforce as well as industry decision-making. Growth in high-wage, high-skill jobs in the life sciences sector is flat-lining in the United States, yet trends in employment in European countries show the opposite -- consistent growth. If present trends continue, China's financial commitment to biomedical research will be twice that of the United States' in the next five years (and four times greater as a share of GDP). That scale may be tough to match, but Congress needs to prioritize medical research and innovation to even stay in the game.

In the United States, every 68 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer's disease. Every 24 seconds, someone is diagnosed with cancer. Every 18 seconds, someone is diagnosed with diabetes. Patients' lives are literally on the line. We've seen the power of patients since the founding of FasterCures. Tenacious venture philanthropy groups like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, and Myelin Repair Foundation are pioneering new ways of getting to a treatment and ultimately a cure. Recent history shows what happens when conflict converts to collaboration. ACT UP. FIGHT BACK. These cries echoed through the early days of the HIV epidemic by AIDS activists, and look what treatment options came of it.

The future is being created right now. Will we be there?