Recently, the Aspen Institute held a panel discussion on the direction of research in the university system, especially in the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Leaders from the University of Miami, University of California, and SUNY expressed their hopes, offered updates on critical research, and emphasized the importance of research in the pandemic context. They emphasized the importance of emerging congressional bills such as the Rise Act and the Endless Frontiers Act as important prospective legislation in support of research as American society seeks to transition out of the pandemic condition.
An Impressive Panel
Julio Frenk, President of the University of Miami, was present at the Aspen Institute’s recent virtual event to discuss both the opportunities and challenges for research universities in association with the COVID-19 pandemic. He was joined by Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California, and Kristina M. Johnson, Chancellor of the State University of New York System (SUNY), as part of the event. It’s time to step up, reports Dr. Frenk, “a moment where we need to rise and shine and illuminate the path forward.” Frenk has something to stay on the subject. In the past, he served as interim chief executive officer of UHealth—University of Miami Health System during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Florida. He also served as dean of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and even was the minister of health in Mexico for six years. Napolitano oversees ten campuses in the University of California system and was the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a former governor of Arizona. Ms. Johnson oversees the 64 campuses of the SUNY and was previously undersecretary of energy in the U.S. Department of Energy and before that served as a provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University.
The Aspen Institute expert panel covered the challenges of managing academic medical centers during a pandemic such as COVID-19. From the financial challenges that ensue to the demands for advanced research, incredibly challenging decisions must be made on an ongoing basis. The universities have lost health care revenue as various treatment revenue streams were shut down, as well as many research programs other than related to COVID-19. And various research programs that were shut down must be rapidly ramped back up.
The panelists all agreed that the university-based research institution plays a fundamental role in becoming a nexus of expertise that brings together the brightest researchers/investigators across a range of fields to advance knowledge. Napolitano raised the bar even more, declaring that if America were to remain as the beacon of world innovation, it would need to continue to lead, which “starts in the university laboratory.”
Examples of research systems, such as the University of California (UC), were introduced as the recent reengineering of apnea machines so they could be used as respirators for those with severe to critical COVID-19. Napolitano suggested, “During the pandemic, its been great to see the convergence of research on all issues of the virus—from modeling to testing modalities, to development of new therapeutics and the basic science to have a vaccine.”
Taking on COVID-19
The University of Miami, reported Frenk, highlighted ongoing research projects such as those involving the development of an RNA vaccine to combat COVID-19 or new testing protocols and many ongoing clinical trials investigating experimental drugs that may help patients fight the disease. All while SUNY is working on ways to test batch samples of COVID-19 in a bid to secure faster results with more accurate outcomes.
Universities have played a key part in developing epidemiological modeling frequently cited by U.S. government officials. The universities have taken the lead to offer projections for the entire nation, reports Frenk. In one particular area, the University of Miami offers the county’s assistance to run epidemiological surveys to help identify COVID-19 hotspots for proactive and coordinated care.
Budget Shortfalls… But
Significant university budget shortfalls will continue, yet the presenters are hopeful that Congress could help reinvigorate research funding with what will hopefully be the passage of the Rise Act, a $26 billion package for university research. Additionally, the Endless Frontier Act, a recently introduced bill, would offer funding for a new sector of the National Science Foundation, focusing on technological research and innovation.
Julio Frenk, President of the University of Miami
Janet Napolitano, Present of the University of California
Kristina M. Johnson, Chancellor of the State University of New York System (SUNY)
Call to Action: Interested in ensuring American research continues at full force? Consider supporting the “Rise Act” and the “Endless Frontier Act.”