Give the health-care industry some of the economic bailout money. Pay math and science teachers more. Move more research out of the labs at area universities and into the marketplace.
Those suggestions topped the to-do list yesterday at a forum on improving medical innovation at the Franklin Institute.
The speakers, including former U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt, Wyeth senior vice president Joseph Mahady, and Gov. Rendell, said the United States risks losing its position as the leader in medical care if it does not find new ways to compete with scientists in other countries.
Gephardt, who served in the U.S. House for 18 years, six of them as majority leader, said he believed the health-care industry should get a piece of the proposed $700 billion-plus bailout package.
"There are two reasons," he said. "The whole area of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology is a huge job creator in our country. Health care has supplanted a lot of the industry jobs we've lost in manufacturing over the years. The second factor is that success in this area means saving money elsewhere."
As an example, he said, a medical treatment that could stave off the onset of Alzheimer's disease for even three years would reduce nursing-home costs and allow someone with the disease to keep working and contributing to the economy.
Several speakers noted that the United States has been falling behind in the number of students who get advanced degrees in math, science and engineering, compared with other countries. The U.S. share of global research-and-development investment declined from 46 percent to 37 percent between 1986 and 2003, according to the Council on Competitiveness, and the country no longer dominates in the number of patents issued yearly.
"The question is, will the U.S. keep its leadership spot in innovation?" Mahady said. He said he believed a better-funded Food and Drug Administration would help, because strong science would improve confidence in the industry.
Two of the names floated for the top FDA spot - Steven Nissen, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic's department of cardiovascular medicine, and Joshua Sharfstein, head of Baltimore's Health Department - are critics of the pharmaceutical industry.
Mahady did not discuss specific names but said a critic who was a strong scientist and was willing to work to understand the industry could be a good choice.
"I'm not opposed to someone with strong opinions," he said. "It may be better than weak or soft leadership."
Brenda Gavin, a founder of venture capital firm Quaker BioVentures Inc., called for more funding to move scientific ideas out of the university lab and into the commercial marketplace.
"We have all these ideas that are just sitting on the shelves like unused inventory," she said.
Rendell said he wanted higher pay for math and science teachers, whose starting salaries are about half of what they could earn in industry.