- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Move to the right

With all the calls for President Bush to nominate a consensus Supreme Court candidate to preserve the balance of power (“Bush meets with court contenders,” Page 1, Tuesday) we have never seen mentioned the fact that the “balance” in the country has moved decidedly toward conservative views since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s appointment.

According to the well-regarded National Election Studies database for the 1980 election (before her appointment), 8 percent of respondents identified themselves as either liberal or extremely liberal, 20 percent as moderate, and 15 percent as conservative or extremely conservative.The2002elections yielded: 14 percent liberal or extremely liberal, 22 percent moderate, and 25 percent conservative or extremely conservative.

These data correspond with nationwide conservative trends in governorships (27 Democrats and 23 Republicans after the 1980 election versus 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats currently); control of state legislatures(29Democrat,15 Republican and five split, with a different party in control of each house, in 1980 versus 17 Democrat, 21 Republican and 11 split now); and, of course, the House (242 Democrats and 192 Republicans after the 1980 elections versus 231 Republicans and 202 Democrats today).

It seems beyond cavil to any serious observer of the body politic that the pre-O’Connor mainstream was well to the left of the current center of the electorate, and failure to consider this sea change renders much of the current discussion at best anachronistic and at worst misleading.



ELIZABETH AND

GEORGE VARY

Bethesda

Biotech R&D and small firms

Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) President James C. Greenwood, in his July 13 Op-Ed column, “Support small business: SBA bill aids biotech firms and marketplace,” failed to point out the detrimental impact the legislation he champions would have on hundreds of small, emerging biotech companies across the United States.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program was created in 1982 to strengthen the role of small firms in federally supported research and development undertakings. Under the SBIR program, a mere 2.5 percent of the outside funding provided by the National Institutes of Health and several other federal agencies is set aside for small companies. Lawmakers recognized that while small businesses lack the laboratory infrastructure and personnel roster of a major university or large pharmaceutical firm, they tend to be very innovative and accepting of risk and often advance novel products and technologies much faster and less expensively than large, established institutions. After more than two decades, the significant value of the SBIR program has been documented in numerous studies by government and nongovernmental organizations.

Unfortunately, BIO and lobbyists for the venture-capital industry want to usurp this program by passing a law that would entitle firms owned and controlled by large pension funds, insurance companies and other large institutional investors to compete with cash-strapped start-ups for the 2.5 percent set-aside. All other things being equal, NIH favors SBIR applicants that present polished applications with weighty preliminary data. This is costly to generate. Inserting companies whose backers have deep pockets and large staffs into this process would significantly change the outcomes. The kind of start-up companies the program was designed to help — the companies that have made the program so successful — would be placed at a major competitive disadvantage. If companies owned by major investment houses are permitted to siphon off a significant percentage of the modest available funds in the SBIR program, the 2.5 percent set-aside for small companies would shrink quickly to 1 percent or 0.5 percent.

This would shift funding away from research and development already under way at many small companies. In many cases — including biodefense, vaccine development, diagnostics, platform technologies, research tools, orphan disease therapies, agricultural biotechnology, and environmental biotech, to name but a few — this research and development is critical for public health and national security but out of favor with Wall Street and the type of companies that would become eligible for SBIR funds if House Bill 2943 becomes law.

Also, the proposed changes to SBIR eligibility would decrease support for high-impact, high-risk innovative research at which small, independently owned companies historically excel, in favor of lower-risk, closer-to-commercialization product development favored by most venture capitalists.

At the Maryland Technology Development Center (MTDC) in Rockville, a county-operated facility that houses one of the largest concentrations of biotech start-ups in the mid-Atlantic region, few, if any, companies are owned by venture capital firms. Instead, most have been funded through the SBIR program along with investment from individuals and small companies. The biotech entrepreneurs at the MTDC overwhelmingly oppose BIO’s efforts to change the SBIR size standards.

Simply put, a company owned and controlled by one or more large venture capital firms is not a small business and should not be entitled to access the minuscule percentage of funds set aside for small businesses. These companies typically lack the culture and attributes of small, individually owned companies, including the ability to “turn on a dime,” take substantial risks and address smaller and less predicable markets, including those unpopular on Wall Street. To permit this change would essentially take the S out of SBIR.

Proponents of changing long-standing definitions of small business are barking up the wrong tree by pressing for changes to the SBIR size standards. Instead, they should be focusing their efforts on the other 97.5 percent of federal R&D funding that is not set aside for small, individually owned companies. While historically most NIH funding has gone to support academic basic research, this has been changing over the past few years. An expanding number of programs are available to businesses of all sizes, at NIH and other agencies, for high-risk, high-impact R&D or the development of products with small or unpredictable markets such as orphan drugs or vaccines against bioterrorism agents. These programs have substantially more funding available than the SBIR program.

Congress should encourage this trend and consider new initiatives, open to companies of all sizes, that help bridge the growing “valley of death” between basic discoveries and delivery to patients of innovative drugs, devices and diagnostics. At the same time, the integrity of programs like SBIR that safeguard the viability and productivity of our nation’s most innovative, small biotech entrepreneurs must be protected.

JONATHAN COHEN

President and CEO

20/20 GeneSystems Inc.

Rockville

Just the facts

Burt Prelutsky set out to defend the Bill of Rights against “pointy-headed” extremists “who argue there should be absolutely no limits on free speech, even when it comes to pornography, blasphemy or sedition” (“Debating the Constitution: Strange ideas about the Bill of Rights,” Op-Ed, July 4), and he bolstered his argument by calling on historical heavyweights.

“To me,” he says, “such an interpretation of the [first] amendment is not only insane, but insulting to the fellows who hammered out the Constitution 230 years ago in Philadelphia. Whatever else Adams, Franklin, Jefferson and their 53 colleagues may have been, they were not lunatics.”

In these two brief sentences, Mr. Prelutsky compactly committed five historical errors, confusing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Constitution was written 218 years ago; it was the Declaration of Independence that was written (almost) 230 years ago (actually 229 years ago).

Adams and Jefferson signed the declaration but not the Constitution; John Adams was in London when the Constitution was being written, and Jefferson was in Paris.

There were 55 delegates appointed to the Constitutional Convention, but some never showed up, and several who did left in protest during the proceedings. There were 42 of them left at the end, but three refused to sign the final document, so there are just 39 signatures on the Constitution.

But “230” and “53” and “Adams” and “Jefferson” and even “Philadelphia” are all beside the point. The First Amendment was not written by the Constitutional Convention, but rather by the First Congress, meeting in New York, a year after the Constitution was ratified.

What can be said of Mr. Prelutsky’s defense of the Bill of Rights is that though his facts are wrong, his patriotic heart is in the right place.

ROBERT A. GOLDWIN

Bethesda

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