‘Manhattan Project-Level' of Money Needed to Fight Cancer

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By Jeannie Baumann

Sept. 21 — Two research advocacy groups are calling on Congress to provide stable, robust medical research funding to achieve the goals of White House-level initiatives like the cancer “moonshot.”

The American Association for Cancer Research's sixth progress report on cancer research concluded that federally funded research continues to spur progress against cancer. But accelerating the pace of progress will require robust, sustained and predictable annual funding increases for the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, the AACR said.

Meanwhile, a separate report from Research!America concluded that unsteady investments in research and development spending over the last three years has hindered the pace of medical progress.

Fiscal Year End Looms

The reports come out as lawmakers are negotiating a stopgap bill to fund the government through early December, less than two weeks before the 2016 fiscal year ends Sept. 30. The FY 2016 appropriations package provided the NIH with an additional $2 billion over the previous year, the largest annual increase for the agency in a dozen years. For FY 2017, House appropriators in both parties have indicated their support for providing another $1.25 billion for the NIH, while their Senate counterparts are proposing a $2 billion increase.

Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-N.J.), said during a Sept. 21 AACR congressional briefing that he supports efforts to increase funding at the NIH as well as the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He also said he favors robust financial support of the cancer moonshot, an initiative led by Vice President Joe Biden to double the rate of progress in cancer treatments and prevention.

“The report and the work you’re doing is so, so important, and I just want to be part of anything we can do to help our fellow man not to have to succumb to this dreadful disease,” Payne said.

Call to Action

AACR President Nancy E. Davidson, who is the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, called for a long-term, bipartisan commitment in Congress to make biomedical research funding a national priority.

“This report is a call to action,” she said.

According to the report, the FDA approved 13 new anticancer therapeutics between Aug. 1, 2015, and July 30, 2016.

“Research is powering progress against cancer. Research is our best defense against cancer,” Davidson said, adding that scientific discoveries have been largely fueled by federal investments in biomedical research. “We can and must do more.”

Elizabeth Jaffee, chairwoman of the National Cancer Advisory Board, which voted earlier this month to approve the blue ribbon panel report that lays out the scientific agenda for the cancer moonshot, said, “This is a historic time in cancer research.”

She identified three projects that are “shovel ready” but noted that there's no money for them.

“We've never seen so much science, so much enthusiasm, so much willingness to work together. We are having a technologic revolution in medical science,” Jaffee, deputy director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, said at the briefing. “We really need a Manhattan Project-level of investment to advance these goals and really save lives,” she said, referring to the massive spending effort to develop the atom bomb during World War II.

Bloomberg Philanthropies provides financial support for the cancer moonshot initiative.

Research!America Report

The Research!America report found U.S. medical and health research and development investment totaled $158.7 in calendar years 2013 through 2015, with industry investing the most of any sector at $102.7 billion. But the report found that industry investments fluctuated over the three-year period, which Research!America said likely is a reflection of sequestration, automatic spending cuts and the medical device excise tax.

“Without sustained growth in R&D investments across the board, we won’t be able to find solutions for the many health challenges that plague us and contribute to rising health care costs,” Research!America Chairman John E. Porter said in a Sept. 21 statement.

Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley said in a Sept. 21 statement that industry investments and funding from other sectors can't compensate for inadequate federal funding. “Steady growth in federal R&D investments is critical to overcoming the ravages of cancer and Alzheimer’s, developing vaccines for Zika and other global health threats,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Randy Kubetin at rkubetin@bna.com

For More Information

The AACR report is at http://src.bna.com/iMk.

The Research!America report is at http://src.bna.com/iMl.

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