What does it take to be the first in innovation, to solve the challenges that face our region, our country and our world? Certainly, it takes tenacious, brilliant minds, with a drive not only to answer the questions but also to question the answers. And, just as importantly, it takes a strong, consistent commitment of national support.
Earlier this week, we welcomed two of the most ardent supporters of groundbreaking UW research to talk about its future, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Patty Murray, Washington state’s U.S. senator. Dr. Collins and Sen. Murray met with the top leaders in the Pacific Northwest’s NIH-funded research organizations, as well as groups that support and promote research development at our incomparable South Lake Union (SLU) campus.
Our group joined Dr. Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine and dean of the UW School of Medicine, for a tour of two labs at SLU. One was Michael Gale’s lab. Professor Gale and colleagues at Kineta, a Seattle biotech company, have identified compounds that stop the spread of Ebola and other viruses in laboratory experiments on human cells. His team is sharing in a five-year, $8.1 million NIH grant to identify compounds that rev up the natural infection-fighting ability of cells, allowing them to repel many types of viruses. This is just one example of how UW research can translate into saving lives around the world.
The NIH is the largest funder of biomedical research in the world, investing nearly $30 billion each year in medical research. Last year alone, $835 million of that funding flowed into our state through our SLU campus. Yet the federal investment in NIH has not kept pace with the need. During the last decade — and particularly following the government sequester in late 2013 — federal funding of the NIH has steadily declined, putting on hold research efforts here in Washington and across the country.
In addition to biomedical breakthroughs, the NIH’s investment in research has led to new startups in the region, creating high-quality jobs, attracting additional investment from outside the state and increasing the state’s exports. And at a time of unprecedented scientific opportunity, it is critical that the United States make forward-thinking investments that promote medical breakthroughs and maintain our international leadership in biomedical research. We appreciate Sen. Murray’s and Dr. Collins’ continued support of our boundless pursuit of the greater common good.