WASHINGTON _ In the first presidential statement onscientific policy in 15 years, the Clinton administration onWednesday called fundamental science the "venture capitalof the future."The administration issued a 31-page report, "Science in theNational Interest," charting a course for scientific researchand education that it deems critical to the nation's future."Technology is the engine of economic growth, creatingjobs, building new industries and improving our standard ofliving," said vice president Albert Gore at a ceremonypresenting the report. "Science fuels technology's engine.A world without science is a world without hope."President Clinton's report laid out five "core elements" forthe nation's scientific future_health, economic prosperity,national security, environmental responsibility andimproved quality of life. Specific goals included:u maintain U.S. leadership across the frontiers of scientificknowledge;u enhance connections between fundamental research andnational goals;u stimulate partnerships that promote investments infundamental science and engineering and effective use ofphysical, human and financial resources;u produce the finest scientists and engineers for the twenty-first century; andu raise scientific and technological literacy of allAmericans.Although the report pledged its support for basic scienceresearch, no concrete proposed budget increases ortimetables appeared in the document. Indeed, the reportnoted that the nation's fiscal constraints will continue tolimit expenditures. National Institutes of Health (NIH)Director Harold Varmus, who is a member of the NationalScience & Technology Council, praised the newpresidential policy statement."[This report] recognizes the profound contributions madenow and to be made in the future by basic scientists whoare pursuing their dreams and their imaginations rather thansome specific goal," said Varmus. "It also appreciates theobstacles to the full pursuit of science that are created bythe current budgetary climate."Pledges notwithstanding, the Clinton administration mayhave to back up its words with cash outlays and newpolicies before the beleaguered scientific researchcommunity takes heart.Varmus, whose agency underwrites about 40 percent of thebasic research that is carried out in this country, has had tostruggle against shrinking budgets since taking the helm atNIH. According to The Washington Post, federal fundingof science has been flat in real terms since 1987. Someargue that tight budgets have hampered management of theNIH's $9 billion extramural research program, which fundsbasic science in universities and at research institutionsacross the country.At a June meeting of the National Task Force on AIDSDrug Development, one AIDS activist who interviewedscientists conducting basic research on AIDS found thatthey spend 30 percent of their time writing grant proposals.At the same meeting, Daniel Hoth, chief medical officer atCell Genesys Inc. and former director of the AIDS Divisionat the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,said the morale of his former NIH colleagues is "as low asI've seen it in the entire 14 years I worked there." Hoth saidsome NIH institutes have been under a hiring freeze for aslong as two years.In addition, at a recent NIH meeting to examineCooperative Research and Development Agreements(CRADAs), industry representatives argued that technologytransfer from the government to the private sector hasground to a halt. They blamed the situation on the so-called"fair pricing clause" that has potential to limit industry'sprofits and is written into all CRADAs. NIH scientists atthe meeting also complained about the clause because itsquelches technology flow from industry to government."This is an emergency," said Mitchell Max, chief of theclinical trials unit at the National Institute of DentalResearch. "NIH employees are leaving because we can'tget drugs from industry to experiment with."The presidential report said that government and industryboth need to increase funding for basic, or undirected,scientific research in order to keep up with foreigncompetitors.Total U.S. support of non-defense research anddevelopment spending is about 1.9 percent of the GrossDomestic Product (GDP), below that of Germany (2.5percent) and Japan (3.0 percent). Including all defenseR&D, the U.S. total becomes 2.6 percent. According to thereport, the majority of non-defense R&D investment issponsored by industry_meaning it's applied researchactivity "closely related to the marketplace." About two-thirds of fundamental research support is federal, ascompared to one-third of applied R&D support. Federalfunding of basic science research consumes a mere 0.27percent of the GDP.Gore also announced on Wednesday the appointment of thePresident's Committee of Advisors on Science andTechnology (PCAST). He said PCAST will serve as "achannel for private sector advice" to the National Scienceand Technology Council," he said. (NSTC is a cabinet-level comittee chaired by Clinton.) "It's purpose is toadvise the president on which federal investments inscience and technology will best enable us achieve ournational goals."PCAST will be co-chaired by Jack Gibbons, assistant to thepresident for science and technology and John Young,former president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. Youngcurrently serves on the board of two biotechnologyconcerns: Shaman Pharmaceuticals Inc. of South SanFrancisco and Affymetrix, a subsidiary of Affymax NVlocated in Palo Alto, Calif. n
-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor
(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.