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Life Sciences Must Prove Its Relevance to Secure Its Political Future

written by: •edited by: Carly Stockwell•updated: 3/22/2016

Election hype is nearing a fever pitch in the US, and there are still 8 months before the country chooses its new president. But the life sciences community is already bracing for the impact a new administration will have on research and development, regardless of which party wins the White House.

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    The divided Congress and looming transition will make it difficult to move science legislation in 2016, and we must anticipate the next president’s willingness to support important scientific endeavors during the next several years. We must continue our work even though election years mean inevitable delays in the funding and green-lighting of projects, as politicians wait to see how the election plays out.

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    An Uncertain Future

    Politicians on both sides of the aisle become conservative during election years for fear of jeopardizing their jobs or hurting their parties’ chances of nabbing the presidency. They’re less inclined to back controversial experiments or unpopular research. It’s a sensitive landscape to navigate.

    Scientists, researchers, and corporations engaged in life sciences should emphasize practical, achievable priorities over long-term goals to generate political support from both Democrats and Republicans.

    Scientists and researchers need to direct their focuses on areas that promise breakthrough results and can be moved quickly toward the applied stage, meaning it will be available for use in real-life cases.

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    How Do You Prove Your Relevance to Skeptical Politicians?

    Focusing on results and applicability mitigates the chances of losing funding or being blocked by politicians who may oppose certain projects. If the new administration doesn’t understand or disagrees with a particular direction, it might ban or suppress that field.

    More than 80% of Democrats and those who lean toward democratic ideals believe in the long-term value of basic scientific research, while only 62% of Republicans and Independents who lean toward republican ideals share that view, according to Pew Research Center. Pew also found that 33% of Republicans and like-minded Independents think science research investments “are not worth it." That’s why we need to move swiftly and demonstrate value to gain political and public support that will hold regardless of who’s in office.

    President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative offers a promising idea for how the government can invest in important biotech initiatives, and it’s crucial that we maintain this momentum. The Precision Medicine Initiative focuses on genetic research and the impact that genes, lifestyle, and environment have on different types of diseases and treatments.

    Under this program, the National Institutes of Health will conduct genome research based on patients’ electronic medical records and will begin clinical trials for new cancer treatments. The Food and Drug Administration is also participating, forming unique regulatory approaches to genomic technologies. It’s imperative for the government to continue supporting these initiatives. Genome research will allow life sciences to better know about some diseases or conditions at the genetically molecular level, recommend accordingly reasonable preventive measures, and try to develop treatments for previously devastating conditions.

    To use President Obama’s example, precision medicine could be a great way to find the participating genes in organ regeneration, which could help the development of regenerative technology. The ability to restore aging or damaged organs to their healthiest states would transform the quality of life of millions of people, not to mention alleviate a huge burden on the economy. Finding a treatment for chronic illnesses or a method to slow aging would allow more people to participate in the workforce, reducing the number of dependents on government assistance.

    Precision medicine is also essential to developing a fully sequenced human genetic database. Such a resource would help scientists crack the code to chronic diseases and debilitating conditions. Life science research of this kind has massive implications for human well-being and economic development. The only way to ensure continued government support is to showcase the real-world potential so the public demands ongoing funding.

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    Ensuring Life Science’s Future

    Life scientists also need to demonstrate applied uses for their research to inoculate the field against misleading influence from academic areas. A well-placed adviser can suppress life-saving research or curtail developments in a certain research track for years, ultimately delaying important cures and risking countless lives.

    The more we can prove the real-world, near-term value of life science research, the more likely politicians of both parties will be to provide funding and support to the most innovative projects of our time.

    About the Author: Kevin Xu is the CEO of MEBO International, a California- and Beijing-based intellectual property management company specializing in applied health systems. He also leads Skingenix, which specializes in skin organ regeneration and the research and development of botanical drug products.