LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Biomedical field in dire need of overhaul

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The 2012 Democratic and Republican party platforms spell out what party leaders believe will address the needs of the American people. But will these platforms include a plank that acknowledges and addresses the fact that our nation spends more than all others on medical research and health care — yet still has one of the highest infant mortality rates of developed nations?

Which party will have a plank to improve Americans’ life expectancy, which lags behind the scores of other countries? Which has a plank to reverse the tsunami of obesity-induced diabetes and Alzheimer’s cases? Unfortunately, our nation’s plan seems to be to have no plan. We invest billions in basic biomedical research and leave the development of medical products to the free market. Since our health insurance preferentially pays for treatment of illness, the commercial sector naturally develops ever-more-expensive illness care that often comes too late to help patients — and at a cost that will soon approach 20 percent of gross domestic product.

The GOP platform acknowledges that ” prevention is preferable to more costly treatment later on” and supports increased efforts to reduce cost of illnesses related to lifestyle through “greater personal responsibility.” However, our bloated and out-of-date clinical trial infrastructure takes decades to evaluate new disease prevention initiatives. Cancer trials take more than two-and-a-half years to plan and between 20 percent and 40 percent of the trials never enroll a single patient.

When the computer chip industry was in crisis in the 1980s, our government and leading industries joined forces to create SEMATECH, a public-private partnership that is credited with saving the U.S. chip industry. We need a biomedical SEMATECH today.


Former president, Critical Path Institute


Former center director, Food and Drug Administration


Former center director, Food and Drug Administration


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