The architect of the “American Cures Act,” U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), was presented with the ASCB Public Service Award by Connie Lee, Chair of ASCB’s Public Policy Committee (PPC) and Erika Shugart, ASCB Executive Director, on Wednesday for his efforts to revive federal investment in biomedical research.
Presenting the award in Durbin’s Capitol Hill office, Lee explained that a turning point for Senator Durbin, who is the Democratic Minority Whip in the Senate, was the realization that in real terms, the federal government was spending two-thirds less on research and development today than it did in 1965. Senator Durbin’s response was the “American Cures Act,” aimed at reversing the trend. The Cures Act established a mandatory trust fund dedicated to steady growth in research funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the Defense Health Project, and the Veterans Medical & Prosthetics Research Program. Lee said that Senator Durbin had successfully fought to increase the share of federal funding to combat AIDS worldwide and championed the American Innovation Act, which increased funding for scientific technology research through five critical federal agencies.
Lee declared, “Because you challenged your colleagues for the first time in a decade, the NIH saw a substantial increase in its annual appropriations and more young investigators are seeing opportunities where no clear path existed for them during the past 10 years.” Lee credited Durbin’s leadership in creating more opportunities for scientists studying the underpinnings of life itself. “Researchers are better equipped to take advantage of unprecedented scientific opportunities that may lead to new treatments and cures for our nation’s most devastating illnesses,” Lee concluded.
According to Shugart, Senator Durbin is the third U.S. Senator to receive the ASCB Public Service Award, following Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) in 1994 and the late Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) in 2005. Other ASCB Public Service recipients include Nobel Laureates J. Michael Bishop in 1998, Harold Varmus in 1999, Paul Berg in 2003, and Elizabeth Blackburn in 2004 as well as actor and activist Christopher Reeve in 2001.
Thanking the ASCB, Senator Durbin said it was an honor to be included in the same lineage as Senators Harkin and Specter. Durbin told Shugart and Lee that the award represented a major decision in his life. Uncertain whether to run for re-election in 2014, Durbin told himself that he would only run if he had specific goals. Reviving federal support for biomedical research was the top goal on that list and the ASCB award meant that he’d chosen well.
Senator Durbin has been in the U.S. Senate since 1997 and sits on the Senate Judiciary, Appropriations, and Rules Committees. He has served as the Assistant Democratic Leader since 2005.
Lee reminded Senator Durbin of his quip following President Obama’s State of the Union that it was music to his ears to hear the President talk about medical research and the difference it can make in the U.S. and in the world. “Well, it is music to our ears every time you stand in support of medical research,” Lee told the Senator.
About the Author:
Tommy Mattocks is the new Public Policy Coordinator for ASCB. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate as the Press intern for Senator Maria Cantwell (D-CA), and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE).