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PCAST Discusses the Future of the Biomedical Research Enterprise

September 26, 2014— The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) Sept. 19 met to discuss the sustainability of the U.S. research enterprise, among other items.

Questions about the long-term stability of the research system have been raised by leading scientists, including in an April 2014 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Three of the authors—Shirley Tilghman, Ph.D., Harold Varmus, M.D., and Marc Kirschner, Ph.D.—spoke with PCAST about their views of the “systemic flaws” threatening biomedical science, the need for reform, and the response to their article in the scientific community.

At the meeting, the authors’ shared their concern about the imbalance between increasingly restrictive amounts of funding available for biomedical research and continued growth of the research community. They contend that this unsustainable path creates hyper-competition for grant funding and stifles the productivity and creativity needed to advance science.

Recommendations in their article include reducing the number of biomedical Ph.D.s trained over time, broadening career paths beyond academic research, improving mechanisms and evaluation of scientific grants, and reexamining rules governing university-government financing.

In discussions, PCAST members agreed that the system is under exceptional stress and that changes are necessary to sustain the health of the research enterprise. However, there was no consensus on whether to reduce the numbers of U.S. trained graduates or how to move forward on other issues.

The panel and council members both stressed the importance of engaging the broader scientific community around possible solutions. It was noted that the article has helped spark this broader discussion.


Anurupa Dev, Ph.D.
Lead Specialist, Science Policy
Telephone: 202-862-6048

Stephen Heinig
Director, Science Policy
Telephone: 202-828-0488


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Washington Highlights, a weekly electronic newsletter, features brief updates on the latest legislative and regulatory activities affecting medical schools and teaching hospitals.

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Jason Kleinman
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Telephone: 202-903-0806