Self Expression Magazine

Biomedical Research May Survive Trump

Posted on the 30 November 2016 by Jhouser123 @jhouser123

The recent election has left most people in the United States (and around the world) with more questions than answers.  The amount of uncertainty that lies ahead can be terrifying to many, and, truthfully, we can only begin to speculate about what the next 4 years will be like.  Thankfully I love to speculate, so let’s begin!

No News Is Good News

Unfortunately there hasn’t been much talk about scientific research by the administration, even during the campaign.  Not so much as a tweet has surfaced to help us determine whether or not they even realize scientific research exists, which may be to our advantage.  Trump is likely to nominate Tom Price (R-GA), a six term congressman and orthopedic surgeon, as the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  He will be in charge of managing the FDA, the CDC, the NIH, Medicare and Medicaid, plus a number of other programs and departments.

Lucky for us, the main focus of his work will likely be on replacing the Affordable Care Act, and his only political positions on scientific research have been standard Republican budget cutting, as highlighted in a recent Nature article.  We can hope that his time as a physician will keep him grounded in the reality that scientific research is a worthy endeavor, and with any luck we might even be happily surprised at his support for biomedical research and curing disease.  Maybe he will even realize that preventative medicine has the potential to save huge amounts of money and embrace forward-thinking science! (Long shot, I know.)

When Industry Feels Good, We All Feel Good

Although there definitely won’t be any major surge of public funding for scientific research coming any time soon, we can expect to see continued growth in the biotech industry.  If the stock market is any projection, then good things are on the horizon for most companies in the pharmaceutical research space.  Drug price controls are unlikely to go into effect under the new administration, and overseas money is coming home, leading to a big bump in domestic profits.  Yes, it will make some companies potentially more tax liable, but I imagine the new Commerce and Treasury departments will take care of the details there.

If Trump wants to make good on the promises of more jobs, he need look no further than promoting scientific industry (sort of…).  Although research positions may be in decline, and R&D functions are getting increasingly risky, requiring industry adaptation, it is still possible that un uptick in industry-initiated and industry-funded research and development could be on the rise given the right economic conditions (something I will discuss in depth soon).  Biotech and pharmaceutical industries will not be able to fix all the unemployment woes this country is experiencing, but with a skilled workforce and the right investment it certainly couldn’t hurt.

A Few Problems

As with any projection, there are a few snags along the way.  First of all, Trump could close down the entire Department of Health and Human Services tomorrow with nothing more than a tweet’s notice.  That might be a slight exaggeration, but my point is that this entire situation is far too volatile to make any prediction reliable until a lot more has been set in stone.  We will need to see this new administration function before we can actually make judgment calls about anything.

One thing is nearly certain, however: there is nearly a 100% chance of budget cuts.  With a Republican majority in the House and Senate and the slim chance of opposition in the White House, budget cuts will be top priority for conservative lawmakers.  If sweeping cuts are imposed across the board this will hurt the NIH budget just as badly as it will everyone else, and thanks to a research community currently highly dependent on the narrow margins of public funding, this could spell trouble for labs that frequently receive barely passing marks on their grant applications.  There will be cuts, it won’t be pretty, and if there isn’t some other source of funding it will be difficult for researchers to keep the lights on and the centrifuges spinning.

At the end of the day…

We are all at the mercy of the politicians in Washington, this is something everyone doing publicly funded research understands right away when they start writing grants.  When public interest in research is high, this can be a good thing.  As long as scientists are pumping out groundbreaking research that is valuable to the health and wellbeing of millions of people we can make a good case for our value to society (and I mean all science, not just translational medicine).

If Donald really wants to “Make America Great Again”, all he needs to do is look at our history of innovation and research and provide the means for us to continue being one of the counties on the cutting edge of science and engineering.  I have said it before and I will say it again: we are living in the world of the future.  Long gone are the days of cheap manufacturing in America, and here to stay are the days of prosperity in high technology and the advanced trades.

More Science, More Better

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