On January 11, Kelvin Droegemeier, a meteorology professor from the University of Oklahoma, assumed directorship of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). His appointment was welcomed by many scientific societies. In February, Droegemeier gave his first public address at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). As summarized in Science, his address touched on several aspects of interest to the scientific community.

He emphasized his perception that U.S. scientific preeminence is not because of “increased federal funding, but stronger collaborations among government, industry, academia, and private foundations.” He also stated that the federal government no longer drives the U.S. innovation engine, suggesting that non-public investments are now playing a more significant role in science funding than they have in the past.

President Trump’s current proposed budget suggests flat or reduced spending for many science agencies. As a result, Droegemeier calls for combining thoughtful and effective allocation of federal resources with new models of funding such as a network of industry-funded institutes on university campuses that are staffed by academic, corporate, and government scientists.

Research at UNC has already been adopting this model to great success. Qura Therapeutics, for example, formed in partnership between GSK (now ViiV Health Care) and UNC to focus on finding a cure for HIV. The recent creation of Pinnacle Hill, a collaboration between UNC and Deerfield Management to fund therapeutic breakthroughs in UNC research laboratories, is another. These are very exciting partnerships that reflect Droegemeier’s vision.

These partnerships would not have occurred without sustainable federal funding for fundamental or basic research. Last week, I spent a day on Capitol Hill with Nancy Fisher, professor of microbiology and immunology, and Kelly Dockham, director of the Office of Federal Affairs, to meet with staff members of the North Carolina delegation to advocate for more federal funding for research in university laboratories.

It is this funding that allows for the development of creative discoveries, which then attracts funding from the private sector. The latter does not happen without the former. We must continue to advocate for systematic increases in federal funding to translate basic discoveries into practical applications that benefit healthy populations.

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