A Trillion-Dollar Opportunity: How Brain Research Can Drive Health and Prosperity

EST
Monday, July 11, 2016 - 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM
122 Cannon House Office Building
27 Independence Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20003

The potential economic benefits as a result of accelerating the progress of innovation to diagnose, treat, and cure a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases, psychiatric disorders, and other brain conditions are wide-ranging and staggering, according to ITIF’s latest report. Among other policy changes necessary to help spur such investment, the report recommends expanding government-backed research and development funding, encouraging biopharmaceutical companies to invest by offering protective policies for their intellectual properties, and updating the U.S. tax code to further galvanize biopharmaceutical research. These policies can help enable innovation to improve health outcomes for millions of Americans each year and capitalize on a $1.5 trillion-dollar economic opportunity from mitigating the negative effects of mental illness.

At an event to discuss the report’s findings and current brain disorder research and policy, the co-authors, Robert Atkinson and Adams Nager, emphasized the potential for significant economic savings over the long term, as well as relieving human suffering. Innovation by definition means uncertainty, but the risks associated with such research should not be dismissed simply because the answers are unknown.

Kristin Kahle Wrobleski, Ph.D., the director for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at Eli Lilly and Company, presented current research on Alzheimer’s in order to underscore the need for additional research and development funding, as well as to emphasize the very real costs currently experienced by people and families affected by that disease. Medical professionals’ ultimate goal is to be able to intervene when these diseases first take hold, but currently they are only able to treat the symptoms rather than eliminate or lessen the causes. Although there is significant unmet need, Dr. Wrobleski and her colleagues want to focus on the innovative efforts to treat these diseases and other brain conditions and illnesses. Even if tangible results may not be seen until future generations, enabling these policy changes now will help provide the incremental improvements in scientific understanding and therapy implementation that will be essential for eventually creating treatments and cures. 

Andrew Sperling, the director of federal legislative advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), praised the report’s detailed look at the lost productivity experienced in the U.S. workforce as a result of the severity, prevalence, and longevity of these diseases. Innovation, he pointed out, is a multi-faceted enterprise that benefits from collaboration between public and private sectors which give scientists and health-care providers the information and tools that they need to look past symptoms and understand root causes. Both Dr. Wrobleski and Sperling noted that the possibility of failure is an integral part of research, and so any policymakers must be willing to cover the cost of failure as an essential part of pursuing innovative new treatments and diagnoses. 

All of the panelists hoped for significant bipartisan recognition of the economic benefits of investing in medical innovation to help research and treat neurodegenerative diseases and other brain conditions. Moreover, the panelists expressed hope that policymakers will not ignore long term benefits from policies promoting innovation in order to realize savings in the short term. Ultimately, the panel emphasized that the aim of supporting this research is to improve the lives of millions of Americans through better health outcomes which enable both higher quality of life and economic prosperity. 

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Speakers: 
Robert D. Atkinson
President
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
Presenter
Adams Nager
Former Economic Policy Analyst
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
Presenter
Andrew Sperling
Director of Federal Legislative Advocacy
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Panelist
Kristin Wrobleski
Director for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, Global Patient Outcomes and Real World Evidence Group
Eli Lilly and Company
Panelist