The Hon. Tom Harkin

Former U.S. Senator; Founder, The Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement

A longtime champion of federal biomedical research funding, Senator Tom Harkin represented Iowa in the United States Congress for nearly four decades. He served Iowa’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 to 1985 and was a U.S. Senator from 1985 to 2015. From 1998 to 2003, Senator Harkin teamed up with Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Representative John Porter (R-IL) to lead a successful campaign to double funding for the National Institutes of Health to accelerate research into conditions including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. He and Senator Specter also led a successful effort to include $10.4 billion for NIH in the 2009 economic recovery law, recognizing that biomedical discovery translates into economic growth and the creation of high-skilled jobs.

In 2014, in his final months in the Senate, he introduced the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act, which would prioritize NIH in the budget process with the aim of funding NIH at its 2003 level plus inflation, thereby reversing the damaging effects of 10 years of stagnation and sequestration. Senator Harkin championed this legislation as critical to maintaining America’s global leadership in biomedical research. His leadership on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS) was transformative in many ways, not least of which was his work securing the first NIH funding for an international partnership that later became the Human Genome Project. This monumental effort has reshaped biomedical research and continues to spur the development of the U.S. biotech industry and the discovery of new therapies. The Human Genome Project has led to the discovery of more than 1,800 disease genes, more than 2,000 genetic tests for human conditions, and at least 350 biotechnology-based products currently in clinical trials.