On the path to sustainability

Addressing the problems of an unbalanced research enterprise

These are stressful times for biochemists and molecular biologists. Funding — which has been stagnant for some time — took a significant hit last year when sequestration kicked in. Funding levels have yet to recover. The available faculty positions for up-and-coming scientists are few and far between, and formal job training for careers away from the bench can be hard to come by. Interactions and collaborations among academia, government and industry are often strained due to the very different cultural goals and needs of each stakeholder. Inefficient and ineffective collaborations among stakeholders, the potential of continued poor funding and a lost generation of scientists threaten the underlying stability of the American biomedical research enterprise.
To address this threat, the Public Affairs Advisory Committee of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has launched a project with a goal of moving the biomedical research enterprise onto a sustainable path. The first stage of this project, as discussed by ASBMB President Jeremy Berg in August, was to draft a white paper outlining a vision for this enterprise. This vision included improving the education opportunities for trainees to prepare them for the variety of careers available; providing a new framework for more efficient cooperation among the academia, government and industry stakeholders; and setting the entire enterprise on a path to predictable increases in funding.
But how can this vision be implemented in times of government austerity and significant regulatory and cultural roadblocks to interactions among the stakeholders? The second stage of the PAAC’s sustainability initiative will explore this question at the Experimental Biology meeting in April in San Diego. A panel session on the second day of the meeting will address the barriers to sustainability and discuss possible mechanisms to overcome these impediments. Sitting on this panel will be four distinguished guests with experience bridging the divides among academia, government and industry.
Lana Skirboll has a unique perspective on industry and government, as she worked on science policy issues for more than two decades at the National Institutes of Health before becoming the vice-president of academic and scientific affairs at Sanofi. 

Michael Marletta serves as the president and chief executive officer of The Scripps Research Institute, and he has a firm understanding of industry through his own startup ventures. 

As the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Technology Licensing Office, Lita Nelsen has extensive experience overcoming barriers between academia and industry to enable the movement of technology and expertise between the two. And Paula Stephan, author of “How Economics Shapes Science” and Science Careers’ 2012 Person of the Year, is an economist who brings an outsider’s view of the strengths and weaknesses of the scientific enterprise.
We want to hear from you, the meeting attendees, as well. This is why we have reserved half of the 90-minute session for the panel to interact with the audience to hear your ideas and questions about building a sustainable biomedical research enterprise. In addition, an informal mixer will follow the session for panel participants, audience members and PAAC members to mingle and continue discussions about this very important topic.
With the biomedical research enterprise so far off balance, the PAAC panel session at the Experimental Biology meeting surely will generate some lively discussion. We hope to see you there!

 Chris PickettChris Pickett (cpickett@asbmb.org) is a policy analyst at ASBMB.

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