- Is there an example of your time on the hill on how political action has helped advance other revolutionary fields of technology, such as nanotechnology? What can the longevity industry learn from these examples?
A fortune 10 CEO visited Senator Coons and asked – what do these government lobbyists do? For two hours they discussed the role of lobbyists. Lobbyists protect, advance, and inform. They spot opportunities for issues to insert itself in the process and advance specific interests in the legislative process. Lobbyists also protect a business or brand from threats. Everyone hates to pay car insurance – sometimes these costs are called void dollars – but it must be done. Lobbyists also inform to increase the profile of an interest. It boils down to message. The secret formula is jobs and economics. Lead the conversation with jobs and economics. It’s also important to align with the public good. Longevity has an easy time here – healthy aging, living a long time in good health. A third layer is to align with a members priorities. You can whisper in the ear to any politician but it has to align with their priorities or you will be ignored.
Dylan was terrific at the previous webinar with Congressman Gingrich and Congressman Israel, where a fiscal and moral obligation of healthy aging was brought up. Any government lobbying effort must also be easy to understand.
- What are the odds of getting something done in regards to longevity in Washington right now? What is the current situation in Washington? More specifically, how would longevity fare as a topic in the halls of congress today as compared to 10 years ago?
The thing to take away is that longevity is a continual topic of interest to Republicans and Democrats. Currently there’s a conversation about voting rights and filibuster. There’s concerns about covid and Build Back Better. There’s a China bill to bring industry (semiconductor) back home. There’s legislation about guns and civil rights, and police reform. Where does longevity play, and where are cross party interests. Foreign policy tends to cross party lines. It is an election year, so as we get close to November we will get into the ‘silly season’ where discord increases. Also, congress is only around about half a year. Toward November, they disappear. Longevity fits in as a cause to rally around on both sides. Republicans are interested in longevity, but the Obamacare debate stops them. Both sides seem to have an issue on how to pay for longevity. However, healthcare definitely matters to everyone and congress notices.
- We at A4LI see the creation of a caucus as a foundational step. What are the formal steps for us to make a caucus happen, and how useful is a caucus?
A caucus is just a bunch of members of congress interested in one cause. They can differ on how to get there, but in general it raises the profile of the cause. There are hundred of caucuses but many of them are dormant. Members get asked all the time to be on caucuses. The issue for longevity is if it is messaged correctly. Healthy aging, making things affordable and easy to understand, that is something everyone is interested in. The House and Senate are totally different in how they operate.
For specifics, in order to get a caucus you need to have a member of congress register a caucus at the committee of house administration, and that gets you some office space and internal mail. For the Senate, you may need a Senate resolution but you may be able to have an informal caucus get generated without one. Once you establish a caucus, you need to be careful about what you do and remember the overall theme of the caucus.
- The focus of our actions in 2022 is to develop a caucus. We have conducted a poll on longevity and aging therapeutics, which will be public by the end of the week. Can you highlight a few of the questions and responses that you found interesting, and what information from this poll could be helpful in forming the longevity caucus?
The poll is fascinating, along with the demographics and cross tabulation. Not surprisingly, most people are interested in aging. 57% know of someone with an old age condition – Parkinsons, ALS, Alzheimers, etc. An overwhelming majority favor medical research. Tying that together, there is public support for this endeavor. 68% said they would take drugs if they were safe, affordable, effective, and available. Healthcare continues to poll at the top of items of interest, #1 for democrats and #3 for republicans after national security and debt. In order to have a bipartisan effort, the spending must be taken into consideration. The key takeaway is that everyone gets old and that all demographics are interested in healthy aging. Rather than spending, we should characterize support as investing in ourselves.
Public Question 1:
- A near term opportunity is to address the fact that almost all increased support for the National Institute on Aging has been earmarked for Alzheimers. The NIA can fund roughly 28% of the proposals for Alzheimers, but <10% of the proposals for all other areas of aging. Erik Fatemi is assisting in this area.
- Need an increase to NIA topline that is not earmarked for Alzheimers
- NIH has a common fund which could fund aging research
- ARPA-H could play a role for funding
- FDA has a funding mechanism called regulatory science which could help discover and validate biomarkers
- These are four ways of using the appropriations process – and we have someone with a lot of experience
It’s amazing you mentioned Erik’s name, we share the same mentor – Ellen Murray, who is at appropriations and pretty much wrote Obamacare. Happy to work with him and brainstorm. Erik is an expert on NIH funding and Senate appropriations.
Public Question 2:
- I challenged Gingrich and Israel when they said science is bipartisan. Their response was that the people rejected the mandate, but seem to agree on the science. Is this the case?
Virginia just lifted mask mandates, because they believe the parents should have the choice and nothing should be mandated. Your absolutely right, for whatever reason Americans have a resistance to anything that seems forced on them. Why vaccines are different than seatbelts or speed limits is a debate for another day, but there is a resistance. Fortunately, most aspects of the Republican party are pro-science in the longevity area.
Public Question 3:
- What is the feasibility of splitting a National Institute of Alzheimers off of the National Institute of Aging.
I think there will be institutional resistance to that but it’s worth exploring. It may be much easier to increase funding or figure out their budget. There would be bureaucratic resistance from the NIH to splitting it off, there may be entanglements in the NIH that they may want to hang on to it. It’s difficult to alter the Washington bureaucracy. I think it’s worth engaging though.
Public Question 4:
- How many elected representatives understand the difference between the diseases of aging approach vs. the geroscience approach to aging?
[Congress deals with patient groups, not with people who are healthy coming to them complaining they are getting older. They deal with people saying “my wife has Alzheimers, this is terrible you need to do something about it.]
Public Question 5:
- How much effect does pharma lobbying have? How far would $1, $10, or $100 million go in terms of lobbying power?
There is a lot of pharma money, over $10 million. We are like the little engine that could, and we have a great message. You can get a lot done with only a few million dollars.
Public Question 6:
- There’s a program the NIA has called “all of us” – how do we get healthy people to start asking for these things?
You’re absolutely right and this affects everybody. The overwhelming majority support medical research, support investment, and know people who have diseases of aging.
Public Question 7:
- What we have is a problem that cannot be solved by the NIH, CDC, FDA – it ties into our agriculture system. If we don’t stop subsidizing corn syrup, promoting a low fat high carb diet which has caused many covid co-morbidities, we’re not going to move the needle on this. If we don’t flatten the curve that is their bellies, they will continue to get sick. Do you agree this is a broader problem, and if so how do we coordinate this thing?
Yes I do agree it is a systemic problem of our country. We have to envision ourselves as the little engine that could, that we can get a group of congress members to form a caucus and promote the concept of healthy aging. That caucus may lead to other things, such as the issue you brought up.
Public Question 8:
- Senator Paul and Booker have introduced legislation that would allow the FDA to not require animal testing for certain drugs. Has it gotten any cosigners – how’s it going and what do you think could be done to improve its chances?
I’d have to look up the specifics on that bill and where it is in committee, I’d be happy to get back to you on that.
Public Question 9:
- We don’t need more money, we need money diverted from the siloed entities within the NIH to go toward fundamental biology of aging.
When you take money from siloed NIH funds and put it into a general pot, you get those silos upset. It’s feasible, but it’s difficult because you get pushback