Message from the President

Nick_Hill
Nicholas S. Hill, MD

Research Funding & the ATS

I can recall no time since completing my fellowship nearly 30 years ago when the research funding environment has been more challenging. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money has flushed through the National Institutes of Health, and paylines during this most recent cycle were about10 percent.

To make matters worse, Congress is suffering from political paralysis, and deficit reduction measures threaten to drastically shrink the NIH budget even further.

The consequences of this funding environment on biomedical research could be devastating, as outstanding researchers with well-established records are forced to abandon their careers. Even more disturbing is the negative effect this environment has on trainees. Many observe what’s happening to their mentors and decide on an alternative career path.

The return on investment for biomedical research has been enormous, and the tragic failure to maintain our research infrastructure will likely retard scientific progress for decades to come.

What can the ATS do to help? Via its Washington Office, led by Gary Ewart and Nuala Moore, the ATS has been championing the public health and economic benefits of research. Unfortunately, the intransigents in Congress have been immune to these arguments thus far, and we will have to await next year’s elections to see if the political winds change.

Can the ATS help by funding more research on its own? Seven years ago, the ATS Foundation was created to serve as the conduit for research funding, largely from individuals. Since then, the amount of money raised has increased substantially, but still remains much smaller than desired.

The world financial crisis and changes in pharma-funding regulations have reduced ATS revenues by approximately 25 percent since their peak in 2007. In 2010, all research support was shifted out of the ATS and into the ATS Foundation, which is now solely responsible for raising funds for the research program.

Though significant cuts were made to the research program in 2010, the Foundation this year funded two new unrestricted grants and restored matching funds for the most generous research support provided by our Public Advisory Roundtable members and industry partners. The ATS Foundation and its partners are supporting a total of 14 new grants this year, and are continuing to support 13 grants first awarded in 2010. In total, the ATS Foundation contributed $876,250 in grant support in 2011.

Yet, we’d like to do much better. In this regard, we are hamstrung because the separation agreement with the American Lung Association precludes the ATS from approaching the public directly for such support.

Nonetheless, Jim Donohue, who chairs the ATS Foundation, and Lydia Neumann, its director, have been raising more funds. The annual research dinner at the International Conference has been a success, and combined with the end-of-the-year fund drive, allowed the Foundation to exceed its research target of $400,000 new dollars. One reason why we exceeded our goal is that the percentage of members who donated to the Foundation has increased from 7 to 10 percent over the past several years.

This year, our target is $500,000 for research alone. If we can meet this ambitious goal, we can double the number of unrestricted research grants to four. To meet that goal, however, we need more members contributing more money. This is entirely doable: if a third of the ATS’s 15,000 members donated just $200 each, we would raise a $1 million.

As a membership organization, our chief source of funds is our members. Some members complain that our research portfolio is paltry, but how can we expect others to give if we don’t ourselves?

However, we can’t rely on members alone. Jim and Lydia have been making connections with potential private donors and encouraging our members to have grateful patients donate. We have initiated regional dinners with donor prospects that have yielded some additional funding. And I have convened a task force, chaired by Jesse Roman who is also the chair of our Scientific Advisory Committee, to increase funding for the ATS Foundation. The task force is charged with examining the track record of the Foundation and formulating actionable ideas to attract more funding.

We remain optimistic that we can increase the Foundation’s research portfolio, but we need member support–both financial and otherwise. Help with identifying philanthropic individuals, family foundations and grateful patients who may be interested in the ATS mission and assistance with organizing regional dinners can be invaluable.

The ATS is very grateful to those who help to support the ATS Foundation’s Research Program We hope that in this holiday season, more will be inclined to give. We are highly committed to doing as much as we can to help our many investigators in these challenging times.

With every good wish for you and your family and friends for the holidays, and please don’t hesitate to contact me, Jim, or Lydia with other ideas or suggestions.

"This year, our target is $500,000 for research alone. If we can meet that ambitious goal, we can double the number of unrestricted research grants to four."