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Encouraging news from the National Institutes of Health. Could this be the beginning of a new focus on cures?

Posted Jan 23 2011 12:00am
As noted here this morning, the NIH initiative to establish a National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) is a worthy effort . But at the same time, NCATS must be kept in perspective; it is a good start, but it is only a start. In the words of Lou Weisbach, co-founder of the American Center for Cures
It means there’s a seed of recognition that the current system needs change. It’s a positive small step at a time when the disease community yearns for a major overhaul that has been long overdue. At what point will the government treat its suffering taxpayers who have diseases with the sense of urgency that they are entitled to?  It’s time to BAILOUT the suffering American public with whatever it takes to bring mission, urgency, and accountability to their plight. It’s time for the silent, passive disease community to DEMAND the change necessary to bring real hope and transparency to the hopeless among us. Virtually the same percentage of people dying of cancer in America in 2011 as in 1950 should be alarming to all of us. What else do we need to know to demand a American Center for Cures type, FULLY FUNDED MISSION.

As one might gather, Weisbach is passionate on the issue.  Yet we note some numbers that underscore Weisbach's energy, and that should get us all fired up.    The new NCATS will be funded with a billion dollars--assuming that it gets funded at all.  If it is funded, that $1 billion will be about the price of a new drug, under the most optimistic accounting.  To put it another way, that $1 billion will be about 3 percent of the NIH budget.   Or, finally, that $1 billion will be just 1/2600th of the total healthcare spend in the US.   About the only number bigger than that is the total loss to productivity and economic output imposed by sickness and disease.   Has this been a good allocation of resources for America?  To let spending for research--especially he crucial category of translational research --be dwarfed by spending for care?

So yes, the economic foolishness of these choices, not to mention the humanitarian losses, ought to make all of us as passionate as Weisbach.

Interestingly, Weisbach has taken the next step.  Working with leaders in Chicago, including mayoral candidate Gery Chico, Weisbach has put together a visionary proposal for an American Center for Cures, to take physical form in Chicago.   Here are some illustrations, below.   The first is an overall look at the proposed campus

The next is an "arch of inspiration":

And finally, a look at an medicine-oriented art work that might grace the campus

To be sure, the ACC and these structures have yet to take shape, and are yet to be funded, but we can say that the momentum has shifted, as those who have chosen to focus on health insurance these past decades are now coming to realize that the real expense is disease, not health insurance.  And that growing realization will move the ACC closer to fruition.

And we might note, of course, that such a Center, doing real translational work, would be a huge boon not only to health, and to the overall economy (helping people to be healthier), but it would also be a boon to the local economy.   That's why Chico and other Chicagoans want the ACC for their city; one question is why other locales haven't yet embraced this obvious tool for economic development. 
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