Guest Q&A — Congresswoman Anna Eshoo

by | Jul 6, 2015 | Alliances, Diversity, Education, Fogarty Innovation, Mentoring, Thought Leadership

The 2015 Fogarty Institute summer interns had much to learn from Rep. Anna Eshoo and Dr. Thomas Fogarty, during a recent visit by the Congresswoman.

On June 8, we had the privilege of hosting Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who came to FII to learn about the latest medical device advancements of our companies-in-residence, and discuss how government and startups can best work together to improve healthcare.

FII has known the Congresswoman for many years — Dr. Fogarty was one of the first people to meet with her when she first came to office to advocate for the medical innovation community, and that created a strong line of communication which has been ongoing. “Tom has been a mentor to me,” said Rep. Eshoo.

Dr. Thomas Fogarty and Congresswoman Eshoo have enjoyed a long-term relationship which has resulted in stronger advocacy for the medical innovation community.

Like the Silicon Valley region she represents, Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo exemplifies innovation. She’s creative, boundary breaking and productive; a problem solver and a consensus builder. The San Jose Mercury News named her one of the 10 most powerful women in Silicon Valley “because she sits on committees that oversee the Internet and biotech-areas vital to the Valley’s interests.” Rep. Eshoo is a senior member of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, which has oversight of the FDA and approval of medical devices. She is also Ranking Member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

We had a lively discussion covering a wide range of topics crucial to innovation in the medical industry:

Q. The U.S. is currently the leader in medical device innovation, but the pressure is certainly on from other countries eager to assume that role. How do you view the medical device approval process?

A. Innovation is in the DNA of Americans. The very founders of our country were innovators, inventors and disruptors. Silicon Valley, in particular, has more biodesign companies working to develop new technologies to ameliorate diseases than any other region in the world. Innovation is the key to unlocking economic growth and improving healthcare. With that said, the FDA and legislators always walk a fine line between the desire to push for medical innovation and protecting people’s health. Whenever you innovate, there is an element of risk. We need to evaluate the risk and ensure it will not harm the end users. The FDA is our “gold standard” agency for drug and device approvals. They have processes in place to study new technologies and to respond to continuous developments. Congress in its oversight is constantly looking for ways to improve those processes. The bigger issue I see at the moment for medical innovation is the lack of funding. We need to recommit ourselves to robust biomedical research in our country, and I have legislation in place that will fund research at appropriate levels, keeping the U.S. as a global leader.

Q. What is your personal experience and where does your passion for medical innovation come from?

A. I look at medical innovation through the lens of public service. What is best for our citizens and for patients? To have my hand in helping find cures for diseases is priceless. My congressional district is constantly bringing about change and our medical innovators help push for new breakthroughs. We examine what other countries are doing to ensure we are staying competitive, and we monitor the needs of U.S. companies to see how we can improve processes.

Q. What do you think of the repeal of the medical device tax?

A. The way the medical device tax was written hinders early-stage companies and this needs to change. Had a company like Google, in its early stages, been faced with similar taxes, they would not be where they are today. We need innovation because it is how ideas get pushed through the pipeline, creating jobs and saving lives. I was able to cut the initial medical device tax in half, and I’m firmly committed to ensuring that tax issues are not burdensome to startups.

Q. Where do you see the biggest need/gap for medical innovation today?

A. Lack of funding for biomedical research. Investment in biomedical research is at unprecedented lows, jeopardizing our national health and preventing future breakthroughs. More than half of basic research funding in the U.S. comes from the federal government, yet today, as a percentage of the federal budget, we are spending two-thirds less on research and development than we did in 1965. At this rate, we’re curtailing discovery and adding to the overall cost of health care in America for lack of progress. By reinvesting in biomedical research, Congress can help transform America’s personal and fiscal health. I’ve introduced legislation, the American Cures Act, to reinvest $165 billion over 10 years into our biomedical research institutions: the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Department of Defense Health Program (DHP), and the Veterans Medical & Prosthetic Research Program. We’re presented with great challenges in the field of biomedical research, but with proper investment there is endless potential.

Q. What role can/does Silicon Valley play in medical innovation?

A. What isn’t Silicon Valley doing in terms of medical innovation?! We’re the innovation capitol of world, and our role will continue to be that of pioneers, experimenters, and risk takers. We are the fearless explorers who will keep propelling medical innovation into new frontiers that benefit our economy, and, most importantly, patients.

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