The elephant in the lab

An op-ed in today’s Globe by two leaders of the region’s biomedical community is as interesting for what it doesn’t say as what it does.

The presidents of Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Partners HealthCare lay out a strong case for the huge value of the state’s “biomedical ecosystem” in driving enormous advances in the treatment of disease while also serving as a crucial engine of the regional economy.

The National Institutes of Health plays a “unique role” in funding early stage research, they write, while the biotech industry takes the most promising leads that result and translates them into breakthrough treatments that improve and save lives.

“If we nurture and support it through continued NIH funding, meaningful intellectual property protections and appropriate rewards for breakthrough innovations, great things will happen for patients, the health care system and our economy,” Vertex CEO Jeffrey Leiden and Partners chief David Torchiana say about that ecosystem. “If we don’t, the opportunity in front of us to cure the next wave of serious diseases will be lost.”

What they don’t ever say is that President Trump has proposed a massive 18 percent cut to the NIH budget, a move that the research world and a bipartisan chorus of Democrats and Republicans say would devastate medical research and care. The Trump proposal would slash $5.8 billion from the current NIH budget of $31.7 billion

“I’m extremely concerned about the potential impact of the 18 percent cut,” Rep. Rep. Tom Cole, the Republican chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the NIH budget, said last month. “This committee and certainly me, personally, will be very hesitant” to approve such a plan, he said.

In December, Torchiana was part of a small group of top hospital executives who met with then-president elect Trump at his Florida compound. Partners is one of the country’s biggest recipients of NIH research funds. A month earlier, Torchiana told the Globe that health care leaders were anticipating less generous federal funding, but he was uncertain of any details.

“We’re going to see a tightening of the belt in terms of Washington programs and the money that’s coming out of Washington to fund health care, but I’m clueless as to what the specifics are going to be,” Torchiana told the paper.

Those specifics are now on the table, and, to borrow from Torchiana’s background as a cardiac surgeon, the cuts would be delivered by an axe, not a scalpel.

Why Leiden and Torchiana danced completely around the budget issue, which is the obvious impetus for their piece, is unclear. Perhaps they’re hoping to soften the blow by not poking directly at the notoriously thin-skinned president.

In March, former NIH director Harold Varmus did no such delicate dance when he wrote a New York Times op-ed on the looming budget showdown. An NIH cut of the size being proposed, he wrote, “would erode America’s leadership in medical research; and it would diminish opportunities to discover new ways to prevent and treat diseases.”

Varmus said arguments over the wisdom of such a cut are not a partisan matter of Democrats versus Republicans. “It is about a more fundamental divide,” he wrote, “between those who believe in evidence as a basis for life-altering and nation-defining decisions and those who adhere unflinchingly to dogma.”

Leiden and Torchiana seem be saying the same thing. But you have to read between the lines to see it.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Joan Vennochi says Gov. Charlie Baker can’t keep walking a fine line on the craziness of Trump, and will need to pick a side. (Boston Globe)

Rep. Kate Hogan of Stow files legislation to criminalize fraudulent sexual contact by medical professionals. (Boston 25)

A homeless family with a 2-year-old girl with spina bifida, which is now being housed in a shelter in Lowell, is asking a court to order the state to relocate them closer to Boston, including in a hotel, if necessary, so they will be closer to the frequent medical appointments required for the young girl. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Quincy City Council approved a plan by Mayor Thomas Koch to improve and expand the city’s parks system at a cost of $27 million to be paid by the local hotel tax. (Patriot Ledger)

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera fired a police officer for taking home a gun that he had seized from a drunk driver.The cop was the second officer fired by Rivera in recent days; a third is on administrative leave pending an investigation.The three cases are unrelated. (Eagle-Tribune)

The head of a conservative watchdog group is criticizing plans for the formation of a committee to award funds Boston collects through the Community Preservation Act surcharge on property taxes. (Boston Herald)

Salaries for Brockton city workers, led by members of the police department working overtime and details, soared last year with 533 employees, more than 12 percent of the public payroll, earning more than $100,000. (The Enterprise)

Danvers Town Meeting approves a ban on pot shops selling recreational marijuana. (Salem News)

Kevin Cullen offers a searing account of why, after an unforgettable encounter with bigotry there when he was 8 years old, a 50-something-year-old Lincoln man will never view Fenway Park the same. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump reportedly shared sensitive classified information with the top Russian officials he met with last week in his office where Russian journalists were allowed but the American media was banned. (Washington Post)

David Brooks calls Trump an infantalist. (New York Times)

Trump’s words and tweets could haunt him as federal court in Seattle hears the administration’s appeal of a lower court ruling against his travel ban, writes Kimberly Atkins. (Boston Herald)

Many states are eager to gain more flexibility in the way they administer Medicaid. One big wish by many of them is to impose work requirements or asset tests on people seeking to qualify for the government-funded health insurance program. (Governing)

Some of Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s constituents want to have a word with the Maine congressman, the only member of the New England House delegation to vote for the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act. (Boston Globe)

Texas officials will seek a return of Medicaid funds they forfeited five years ago when they banned Planned Parenthood from a health program aimed at reducing pregnancies and sexualy transmitted diseases. If approved, it could open the door to other states barring organizations that provide abortion services. (New York Times)

Lowell Sun columnist Peter Lucas hammers away at the ego of US Rep. Seth Moulton, referring to him as the “President-in-Waiting.”

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

US officials and private security firms say new clues indicate North Korea is behind the so-called ransomware attack that has disabled computers around the world. (New York Times)

Walmart has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a class action suit initially filed by a same-sex couple who worked in the Swansea store and claimed the retail giant discriminated against them by refusing to provide health benefits. (Associated Press)

EDUCATION

Stephen Blyth, former head of Harvard’s investment arm who left the underperforming endowment fund last year, was paid $14.9 million in 2015, according to the school’s most recent tax filings. (Bloomberg)

State Rep. Christopher Markey wants to bar state aid dollars to students attending private colleges and universities with endowments greater than $1 billion. (Boston Globe)

The ACLU has filed a complaint with the state education department over a Malden charter school’s policy against students wearing hair braid extensions, calling it discriminatory toward female and black students. (Boston Globe)

A bid for a new Lowell High School at the site of Cawley Stadium made some progress on Beacon Hill. (Lowell Sun)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A sober home about to open in Lowell is viewed skeptically by neighbors who say they were given no prior notification of the development. (Lowell Sun)

UMass Memorial Medical Center’s emergency room is swamped, but trying to ease backups by converting psychiatric beds for broader uses is stirring controversy. (Telegram & Gazette)

Erica Kirsners, a social worker, and Vicker DiGravio, CEO of the Association for Behavioral Healthcare, say clawbacks threaten mental health services. (CommonWealth)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA months ago completed a redesign of the Auburndale commuter rail station in Newton, but now that plan is being scrapped after a transit advocacy group said the approach could cripple service on the Framingham-Worcester Line. (CommonWealth)

Keolis’s on-time performance improves as locomotives return to service, but a mysterious problem with passenger coaches persists. (CommonWealth)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Some area residents are pushing a petition asking the Cape Cod National Seashore to ban hunting of coyotes, foxes, and fisher cats. (Cape Cod Times)

CASINOS/GAMBLING

Plainridge Park Casino reports its highest monthly revenue since the first few months after the facility opened. (Boston Globe) A Herald editorial questions a bid by Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey for a $75,000 grant to hire a prosecutor to deal with crime related to the Plainridge slots parlor because there has been no crime surge or, according to one recent report, “discernible impact” of any kind from the facility.

A priest who stole $240,000 from his Northboro parish to feed a gambling habit is back serving the Worcester Archdiocese in a limited capacity. (Telegram & Gazette)