04.22.21

Senator Murray, HELP Committee Look at How to Protect Biomedical Research from Undue Foreign Influence

Murray underscores need for transparency and continued global collaboration in biomedical research to make lifesaving discoveries for patients and families

 

Senator Murray: “Our ability to lead the world in biomedical research is directly tied to our ability to work with the world on biomedical research—but successful collaboration requires trust, and trust requires transparency.”

 

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, held a hearing focused on protecting our nation’s biomedical research from undue foreign influence. In her opening remarks, Senator Murray highlighted how global partnerships in biomedical research can help discover lifesaving treatments and cures for patients and families across the country, but stressed that transparency is essential to making certain collaboration isn’t derailed or delayed by undue foreign influence.  

 

“Our ability to lead the world in biomedical research is directly tied to our ability to work with the world on biomedical research—but successful collaboration requires trust, and trust requires transparency,” said Senator Murray in her opening remarks.

 

During her remarks, Senator Murray emphasized the need for the federal government to ensure researchers fully disclose foreign affiliations and be fully transparent about potential conflicts of interest when applying for federal grants, protect research from cyber-attacks, and protect confidential information from being improperly shared.

 

“Families are counting on us to get this right, not just to make sure their tax dollars aren’t misspent, intellectual property isn’t stolen, and national security isn’t undermined. But so potentially lifesaving research on cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases isn’t delayed or derailed by undue influence.”

 

The hearing included testimony from Dr. Michael Lauer, Deputy Director for Extramural Research in the Office of the Director at the National Institutes of Health, Lisa Aguirre, Acting Director of the Office of National Security for the Department of Health and Human Services, Gary Cantrell, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations at the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, and Candice Wright, Acting Director of Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics at the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

 

Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

 

“Our nation has a long history of leadership when it comes to biomedical research.

 

“And I’m proud to say Washington state has contributed to several important chapters in that history, with groundbreaking discoveries related to bone marrow transplants, cell therapies, and precision medicine to help determine the best treatment for each patient.

 

“And with nearly 1,800 NIH awards going to 75 biomedical science organizations in my state last year, we remain a leader when it comes to lifesaving research.

 

“Protecting and supporting that research has always been important to families and patients across the country.

 

“But the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the value of this work in developing treatments and cures for diseases, the importance of promoting global collaboration and information sharing in the biomedical research community, and the need for transparency and accountability to ensure this work is based on data and science, and protected against undue influence of any kind.

 

“That means protecting scientific work from political interference, like we saw from the Trump Administration, as well as protecting it from undue foreign influence which can take many forms.

 

“Global collaboration is critical in biomedical research, talented researchers from around the world have played a key role in some of the major breakthroughs our country has made.

 

“In fact, in recent decades, more than a third of the Nobel prizes in Medicine, Physics, and Chemistry awarded to Americans, were awarded to immigrant or foreign-born scientists.

 

“Our ability to lead the world in biomedical research—is directly tied to our ability to work with the world on biomedical research.

 

“But successful collaboration requires trust, and trust requires transparency.

 

“It’s important that researchers with foreign affiliations and potential conflicts of interest—for example participation in foreign talent programs, or commitments to file patents in, or move laboratories to, foreign nations—fully disclose those issues when applying for federal grants.

 

“It’s not that researchers can’t have other affiliations, but they must be transparent about them—and the overwhelming majority of researchers are.

 

“The latest report from the National Institutes of Health on undisclosed conflicts of interest, found cause for concern with only 507 grant recipients—compared to over 30,000 total grantees in 2020.

 

“But we cannot let the few instances of bad actors undermine the U.S. biomedical research enterprise, including our ability to partner with talented researchers around the globe.

 

“We also have to protect confidential information—for example unpublished research or sensitive human genomic data—from being improperly shared.

 

“That means protecting against threats like the cyber-attacks we saw last year when North Korea tried to hack COVID-19 vaccination data, and bad actors who misuse their access to research, including during the peer review process.

 

“The National Institutes of Health has made progress in implementing policies and procedures to raise awareness of, prevent, and address undue foreign influence among the biomedical research community.

 

“But as investigations from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General, the Department’s Office of National Security,  and the Government Accountability Office, make clear there is more NIH can be doing here.

 

“So I’m pleased to have witnesses from each of those offices as well the NIH Office of Extramural Research, which investigates grantees who are credibly thought to have undisclosed conflicts of interest.

 

“I look forward to hearing more from each of you today about what steps Congress can take to ensure accountability and transparency in the grant process.

 

“Families are counting on us to get this right, not just to make sure their tax dollars aren’t misspent, intellectual property isn’t stolen, and national security isn’t undermined.

 

“But so potentially lifesaving research on cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases, isn’t delayed or derailed by undue influence.

 

“Congress has a long record of bipartisan support for biomedical research. I’m proud to have fought hard to make necessary investments in this work and I hope we’ll be able to work in a similarly bipartisan way on this Committee to take steps to protect those investments.

 

“Now I’ll recognize Ranking Member Burr for his opening remarks.”

 

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