By Julian Pecquet
Newt Gingrich, never one to dream small, is hoping to rekindle interest in his faltering presidential campaign with a call for massive investment in medical research not unlike former President John F. Kennedy's race to the moon.
The former House Speaker has his sights set on what he sees as the next frontier waiting to be explored: the human brain. America's entrepreneurs, he says, can once again lead the way -- but only if short-sighted politicians and small-minded bureaucrats let them.
In an interview with The Hill on Monday, Gingrich acknowledged that his bold ideas will clash with promises to shrink government and cut the debt that will likely dominate Thursday's Republican presidential debate in Iowa.
"Initially, they'll be rejected," Gingrich said. "Let's be clear: This is not a city that likes innovation; it's not a city that likes to think deeply. It's a city that memorizes a handful of phrases and uses them in nine-second sound bites."
Gingrich has a three-prong strategy to carry out his vision.
First, he wants to create a 21st-century Food and Drug Administration that doesn't hobble upstart companies with costly requirements to get drugs and medical devices on the market. A reformed FDA, he said, would help firms get products from the research laboratory to the marketplace faster.
"The current FDA model takes too long, allows people to die in the interim, raises the costs so dramatically that small start-ups couldn't possibly bring new ideas to the table and is in effect driving jobs overseas," Gingrich said.
One way to improve the process: electronic health records. Thanks to them, Gingrich said, "you can have much faster approval times because you can monitor in real time everyone who uses the drug. And if you start getting inappropriate responses, you can change within weeks."
The next step: changing the tax structure to reward innovators by eliminating the capital gains tax and repealing regulatory burdens, including those in the Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley bills.
Finally, Gingrich wants to create a freestanding "brain science institute" that would be tasked with creating public-private partnerships "to maximize the rate of evolution of new knowledge and get it to the patient quickly." Its goal would be to map all the behaviors of the brain, just like researchers mapped the human genome a decade ago.
Gingrich says his vision should resonate with voters who are worried about the U.S. deficit.
Delaying the onset of Alzheimer's by just five years would save $10 trillion in public and private costs by 2050, he says -- and that's just one of many brain-related diseases and disorders such as Parkinson's, schizophrenia and learning disabilities. That's the same defense he offers for his support, in 2003, of the Medicare prescription drug program, which wasn't paid for.
"To have a system which says to somebody, 'We won't help you take care of your diabetes but we'll be glad to put you on kidney dialysis the rest of your life' is an economically irrational system," he said. "To condemn senior citizens to bad medicine for political reasons is a really bad idea."