Voices | March 5-12

Philly phanatic
The Phillies are embroiled in a legal battle over their beloved mascot. But most care less about that and more how the team is looking in spring training. | Image: Anne & Saturnino Miranda


The Phillies are deep into spring training – complete with a few new players and even a new-look mascot.

Your turn: Did the Phillies do enough in the off-season to make the playoffs this year? And do you give the new Phanatic a thumbs up or thumbs down?

Send your thoughts to mail@philadelphiaweekly.com.

Take self-righteous morals to the streets

Re: “Your Body, His Choice?” (Feb. 20)

If these hypocritical pieces of pro-life shit actually cared for human life, then why don’t they take their self-righteous morals to the epidemic in the streets? According to the LAHSA 2019 census, there are 50,000-60,000 actual living and breathing conceived human beings living in tents and under tarps on the sidewalks of Los Angeles County.  

How many human lives could be saved if these fanatics used their “life chains” and “rescue operation” techniques to feed, volunteer, build and advocate for those who were given a life that society has turned their back on. Are not all conceived in this country deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Christine | original Philadelphian, now living in Los Angeles

University of Pennsylvania students sit in on the Board of Trustees meeting to protest the administration’s lack of interest in climate change. | Image courtesy: Phillippe Atillah

Students: UPenn doesn’t care about climate change

On Friday, Feb. 28 at the Inn at Penn, a group of 35 Penn students staged a sit-in, partially obstructing the [University of Pennsylvania’s] Board of Trustees from exiting their semesterly meeting. The purpose of the disruption was to protest the Penn administration’s refusal to participate in a climate town hall, which the protesters have been requesting since September.  

The group continues to ask President Amy Gutmann, Chief Investment Officer Peter Ammon and Chairman of the Board of Trustees David Cohen to  participate in a town hall to address student and faculty concerns regarding Penn’s investment in the fossil fuel industries. The group lodged this demand on Sept. 27, at the same time that it led 40 students into the foyer of Penn’s College Hall for the first of many weekly sit-ins designed to pressure the administration to respond to the demand.

 On Oct. 10, the Office of the University Secretary sent an email to FFP and its allies communicating an effective refusal. On Nov. 28, Fossil Free Penn vocally disrupted the Board of Trustees meeting, articulating this demand and singing “Which Side Are You On” – a Depression-era labor-movement song written by Florence Reece during the 1931 Harlan County Coal strikes.

On Jan. 29, the administration sent an email to the Penn community stating that Penn “does not hold, and would not expect to hold going forward, any direct investments in companies focused on the production of thermal coal or bituminous (tar) sands, a reflection of the significant carbon intensity – and the corresponding risks – of such businesses.” While Fossil Free Penn considered this announcement a direct consequence of continued student pressure, it is far from the proactive divestment measure the organization has been demanding since 2015. 

FFP coordinator Ari Bortman said, “Our message is clear: we are ready to fight, once again, for our futures. We have demanded dialogue and change. We are watching, and we hope that change and dialogue are forthcoming. Because our futures are at stake. People’s lives are at stake. And this university continues to support the industry responsible.” 

Emma Glasser, also a Fossil Free Penn coordinator noted, “We are here because injustice is not an investment. Penn needs to be held accountable for neglecting our right to a livable future.” In response to the trustees’ inelegant descent from the fire exit, Fossil Free Penn activist Claudia Silver noted, “With the climate crisis looming, not everyone has an emergency exit.”

Phillippe Atillah | West Philadelphia

Our medical innovation system is under assault 

Since finishing medical school nearly 40 years ago, I’ve witnessed American scientists develop hundreds of lifesaving medicines that once seemed unimaginable.

While leading the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health, I saw scientists pioneer novel ways to treat rare and serious blood disorders in children.

During my tenure as president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, researchers have cured hepatitis C, a once-fatal liver disease that killed nearly 20,000 Americans annually as recently as 2014 and with new biologic therapies, have harnessed the power of terminal cancer patients’ own immune systems to provide new hope.

These cutting-edge medicines weren’t developed overnight. They required decades of research, hundreds of millions of dollars in seed funding, and a policy environment that fosters innovation. Unfortunately, our innovation ecosystem is now under assault. 

It’s important for the American public to understand how drug development works – and how the next generation will suffer if we don’t provide scientists the resources required to enable continued innovation and discovery.

Basic scientific research, which is often subsidized by the federal government through the National Institutes for Health, is absolutely critical to biomedical innovation. During my time leading the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute – which allocates about $3 billion in research grants each year – our team made great progress in better understanding how to treat and diagnose chronic diseases.

But government labs don’t turn promising insights into actual treatments. Often, it’s the small, venture-backed biomedical companies, increasingly in collaboration with the nation’s top academic medical centers, that do. 

These firms translate basic research into applied science by identifying promising drug compounds and shepherding them through years of preclinical testing, human trials and regulatory hurdles. These companies often partner with bigger firms once success is in sight.

But the process is rife with failure. Consider cancer drugs. Between 1998 and 2014, 177 potential lung cancer drugs entered clinical trials – yet only 10 were approved. During that same period, 96 potential drugs for melanoma failed, while only seven succeeded.

Because of this high failure rate, drug development is incredibly risky and expensive. Those who embrace the challenge do so because of a strong and predictable system that provides limited protections for the few successful medicines coming to market. 

Investors in early-stage research firms accept these risks because they know the revenue from just one successful drug can pay for every failure and still generate a return. “Profit” has become a dirty word, but the market-based system we have is the main reason our country leads the world in drug innovation. Two-thirds of the new medicines released worldwide in the last decade came from the United States. 

Now, our innovation ecosystem is being threatened. In Congress, some lawmakers want to import foreign price controls. Others want to introduce price controls in Medicare. Still others want to allow the federal government to set prices on any medicine whose origin lies in government-funded research. 

Though doubtlessly well-intentioned, these policy changes could eliminate the financial incentives that allow research scientists to explore new treatments.

Policymakers and American citizens alike need to understand that government labs don’t develop drugs. Nor should we want them to. Congress sets the NIH’s budget and instructs the agency on how to spend that money. Tasking the NIH with drug discovery would politicize the research process. It’d enable a handful of government officials to decide which experimental treatments get funding – and which ones die in the lab.

I know firsthand that scientists working at federally funded labs are brilliant, but it’s neither their job nor their goal to create new medicines. 

Patients are better off when the government allocates its limited resources toward basic scientific research, which often lacks an immediate application and thus would struggle to attract funding. This division of labor allows private companies to take on the risky, laborious, and hugely expensive drug development process. 

If we want American firms to continue producing lifesaving treatments, we need to protect them.

Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD

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