Clinical Research: A National Call to Action

Medicine and science stand poised on the threshold of some of their greatest advances . At no time in human history has the potential been greater for translating biological knowledge and technological capability into powerful tools for preventing and treating disease and caring for our communities’ health. Dramatic progress in the basic sciences has vastly increased our understanding of the causes of disease and opened up previously unimagined options for treatment and prevention. The burgeoning biotechnology industry has helped to revolutionize thebottlenecksmall development of new drugs. The mapping of the human genome is almost complete, and the fruits of genetic research alone promise to transform medical knowledge and practice beyond our wildest dreams. Before us lie virtually limitless possibilities for preventing and treating the major diseases of humankind and enhancing the health of our citizens and their communities.

At the same time, a new set of challenges threatens our ability to make the most of these scientific opportunities. Today’s cost-conscious and competitive health care marketplace has had a major impact on funding streams that have long been available to support biomedical and health research and the training of scientists. The rapidly expanding capability of information technology, while a boon to many administrative and financial functions in the health care system, has not been sufficiently exploited for research purposes.

Clinical research is the “neck of the scientific bottle,” through which all scientific developments in biomedicine must flow before they can be of real-world benefit to the public. Landmark developments in genetics, bioengineering, neuroscience, and molecular and structural biology will mean little in practical terms if clinical researchers are unable to “translate” this science into new and effective medical and health practices. Nor will the practices be of maximum benefit to the public without the analysis of health services and epidemiological researchers. Without a robust national program of clinical research that enjoys the participation and harnesses the full strength of all components of the health sector, the impact of revolutionary advances in the biomedical and health sciences on the health of the public will be blunted.

The problem confronting all Americans is that the vitality of our country’s clinical research enterprise is at risk. Many elements of the complex ecosystem that support clinical research are shifting or eroding, threatening the nation’s ability to successfully translate research advances into effective, efficient treatments, cures, and strategies of disease prevention at the bedside, in the clinic, and in the community. The return on America’s substantial and ongoing financial investment in medical research can only be realized if all stakeholders — from the public, to the professionals, to the policymakers — join together to promote a cohesive national agenda for clinical research."

Text and image excerpted from: The American Association of Medical Colleges & The American Medical Association (November 1999). Breaking the Scientific Bottleneck - Clinical Research: A National Call to Action.

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