We Americans are rightfully proud of our can-do spirit. We know that our nation is capable of uniting for a common goal — and triumphing.
In this time of economic challenge and political divisiveness, we are proposing an idea for our country's next common mission: biomedical innovation.
From our combined decades of experience leading in the Congress and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we see the biomedical frontier as America's greatest opportunity to align our nation's competencies and resources for a better future.
For too long, humanity has been plagued by diseases that, with our commitment, we can end. Forever. Discovering cures for diseases like cancer, diabetes and lupus is a goal all Americans can get behind — because let's face it, chronic diseases don't care whom you voted for in the last election.
Not only can all Americans support the goal of biomedical innovation — we must — or we will never be able to pick up our economy and reduce the weight of healthcare costs, costs that multiply as the baby boomer generation ages.
The need to increase our investment in American biomedical research is perhaps seen best in the example of Alzheimer's — the only disease among the nation's leading causes of death with no known cure or treatment to impact progression.
As baby boomers start turning 65 this year, at the rate of 10,000 per day, one in eight of them will already suffer from Alzheimer's. Collectively, 10 million baby boomers will die with this disease.
Caring for the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer's currently costs U.S. taxpayers $183 billion in Medicare and Medicaid spending alone, not even factoring in lost productivity. Over the next decade, as the number of Americans with Alzheimer's grows, we will spend $2 trillion caring for them.
For comparison, the newly formed Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction in Congress has been given the near-impossible task of finding $1.4 trillion in cost cuts over the same time period.
Despite the extreme toll the disease has on our families and economy, our country last year dedicated only $450 million to Alzheimer's research.
Even this limited research investment provided value. Just this month, scientists at Cornell University announced they may have found a method for opening and closing the blood-brain barrier to safely deliver therapies to treat Alzheimer's. Another new study shows promising signs of slowing down the effects of Alzheimer's with an insulin nasal spray. American companies are researching potential vaccines against Alzheimer's.
With the right investments and environment supporting biomedical innovation, the U.S. research community believes we can stop Alzheimer's by 2020 — cutting trillions from the 10-year healthcare tab, sparing millions of Americans the devastation that is Alzheimer's and reinvigorating the economy with increased productivity and job creation.
The United States government currently spends nearly $30 billion on research and development each year for health discoveries. These prized and scarce resources should be allocated based on the principle of delivering value to the American people and our economy. An investment in biomedical innovation should be our focus.
Now is our chance to come together, resurrect America's can-do spirit in a new century, and invest in biomedical innovation.
Dick Gephardt, a Democrat and former member of Congress from Missouri, served as U.S. House Majority Leader. Michael O. Leavitt, a Republican and former governor of Utah, served as Secretary of Health and Human Services during the second Bush administration and is a member of the Deseret News editorial advisory board. Both co-chair the Council for American Medical Innovation (CAMI).