Building on the PhRMA Foundation’s Little-Known HistoryJanuary 20, 2022
The new PhRMA Foundation president highlights the organization’s history as she charts the course for the future.
The PhRMA Foundation has quietly been doing its work for 57 years. When I joined as its President late last year, I was immediately impressed by the impact the organization has made over the course of its history, having not just funded more than 2,400 scientists across more than 300 institutions but having catalyzed new fields and new careers in biopharmaceutical innovation.
The organization has kept a relatively low profile so awareness of its impact pales in comparison to the impact of its long-term programs – but I intend to highlight that story as we chart the course into the next five decades.
Fostering New Fields
It may come as a surprise that the PhRMA Foundation was born from the thalidomide tragedy, which leaders in the industry recognized could forever harm trust in new medicines. They created a body that would ultimately become the PhRMA Foundation to harness science to understand and prevent tragic, adverse events in the future. The Foundation brought together top researchers from industry and academia and they conceived of and fostered the field of toxicology, which today plays a critical role in ensuring medication safety.
More recently, the Foundation has helped advance the field of value assessment, supporting the development of tools and frameworks for understanding the value of medicines and other health care services. The work we have funded helps the health care system collectively move towards a more value-driven approach that prioritizes both scientific evidence and patient preferences to improve outcomes and ensure health care dollars are well spent.
Catalyzing New Careers
The Foundation’s grants also transform the careers of researchers. These are generally scientists early in their careers – grad students, post-docs, or first-year faculty members. Many of the more than 2,400 scientists funded have gone on to do important work developing drugs, founding companies, and running successful academic laboratories and non-profit research institutions. Perhaps the best-known recipient is Arthur Hayes, MD, who later served as an FDA commissioner during the 1980s and subsequently served as Provost and Dean of the New York Medical College. But he is not alone – some of the biggest names in life sciences today were once PhRMA Foundation grantees, including Dr. Craig Venter, Dr. Stephen Spielberg, Dr. Raymond Woolsey, and Dr. Susan Band Horowitz.
The Foundation has also looked to reduce disparities in scientific research funding. Today, roughly half of our grants go to women scientists, and roughly half go to people of color. PhRMA Foundation grants, given early in careers, are useful in helping promising researchers attract subsequent dollars to fund additional research projects. Today we are expanding our diversity and inclusion efforts.
The Future of the Foundation
We stand on the shoulders of this history as we continue to grow our work, advancing biopharmaceutical science and delivery. On this backdrop, we look forward to supporting the next generation of biopharmaceutical researchers to explore new technological frontiers – such as mRNA therapeutics, cell and gene therapies, and fields we haven’t even imagined yet. We also have a critical opportunity to help shape a patient-centered, value-driven health care system through advanced, validated methodologies to assess the value of medicines. We will continue doing the work of the PhRMA Foundation – but, I hope, less quietly than in the past.