Research funding vital

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Don’t cut back on cancer fight

By Walter J. Curran Jr.

We’re at a point in the fight against cancer where decades of discoveries are translating into new diagnostic and treatment tools at an accelerated rate. Unfortunately, this comes as agencies that fund cancer research face dire cutbacks.

There’s an urgent need to account for the tax dollars that feed our federal budget. Because Congress faces difficult decisions on how to cut that budget, I went to Washington recently to speak to lawmakers about the relationship of the National Institutes of Health to our nation’s cancer centers.

It is important to offer tangible proof of the great strides that have been made in treating and curing cancer due to NIH-funded cancer research. I’ve already seen how budget cuts are slowing the progress toward finding new cancer treatments.

I spoke on behalf of not only the Winship Cancer Institute but the American Association of Cancer Institutes, addressing members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. The chairman is Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. Kingston visited Winship in January 2012 and took away a new understanding of how a cancer research institute serves cancer patients. I urged committee members to visit the centers in their districts to see the outstanding work my colleagues do at their institutions.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is one of the NIH’s institutes. NCI awards its designation to cancer centers that demonstrate expertise in laboratory, clinical and behavioral and population-based cancer research. Winship first received NCI designation in 2009, joining a prestigious group of about five dozen cancer centers. Winship is Georgia’s only NCI-designated cancer center.

This designation is not about prestige, however. It is about the ability to find better treatments for cancer. That ability hinges to a large degree on funding.

While Congress continues to debate the remainder of the fiscal year 2013 budget, NIH and NCI have prepared for cuts through fiscal year 2021. NIH will suffer a cut of $1.6 billion, of which NCI will lose about $250 million. These cuts could be disastrous in the progress against cancer. Continued progress in cancer research depends on the sustained efforts of highly skilled research teams working at cancer centers supported by NCI. A budget cut will decrease funding to cancer research across the country and impact many of the research teams working on new treatments and cures. Rebuilding such teams, even after a short break in funding, could take years.

This is especially concerning because we have better tools to treat cancer than ever before. We risk driving an entire generation of young cancer physicians and researchers abroad to seek opportunities to practice their craft and advance their careers, or out of the field altogether.

We are on a clear path to dramatic breakthroughs. We have come too far in cancer research progress to lose Congress’ full support of NIH and, ultimately, NIH’s funding of NCI-designated cancer centers and the National Clinical Trials Network.

Dr. Walter J. Curran Jr. is executive director of the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University and a radiation oncologist.

13 comments Add your comment

n

March 24th, 2013
1:28 pm

With all do respect, alzheimers is a disease in more pressing need than cancer reserch. Eli Lilly has a new drug [Slanzemab] in 2nd stage testing , was found to slow the progression of dementia in mild forms, and slows the onset of alzheimers in those with precursors for the dementia.
With FDA approval it would be the biggest money maker to ever hit the market.

Ralph

March 23rd, 2013
3:39 pm

Those who want to block scientific research – cancer and otherwise – are cutting their own throats unnecessarily. Yes, we live in an anti-intellectual, poorly educated state that has little appreciation for new knowledge. In fact, Georgians are frequently frightened by new ideas and truths that displace previously held beliefs. But for those of us who appreciate the dedication and hard work of Dr. Curran and his associates, we know there is plenty of money and the “TOO MUCH SPENDING” crowd is part of this misinformed, anti-intellectual, uneducated group. Corporate profits now stand at 14.2 percent, the largest share at any time since 1950, and only 61.7 percent goes to corporate employees, near its lowest since 1966. Corporate earnings have risen at an annualized rate of 20.1 percent since the end of 2008 while personal income has only risen 1.4 percent. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that publicly listed companies held an estimated $4.75 trillion in cash in 2012. Cash now represents more than 12 percent of corporate assets. Each year, the government spends 1.3 trillion (2011), 1.1 trillion (2012) and 845 billion (C.B.O. projected 2013) more than is received. The government provides tax breaks worth 1.1 trillion. That is more than the cost of Medicare and Medicaid combined. It is more than Social Security. It tops the defense budget. This budget can easily be balanced without attacking the N.I.H. or the other important programs that produce new knowledge, better healthcare (cancer survivals are markedly improved thanks to this entity), and better quality of life (decreased smoking, control of cholesterol, attention to obesity, medications for hypertension, etc.). Only the truly uninformed would attack such an institution. There is plenty of money and it should be collected and distributed to those who can use it for good rather than another new car and two or three more homes.

MM

March 23rd, 2013
3:17 pm

Richard Nixon promised his War on Cancer would stop the disease. He also claimed he had a secret plan that would end the Vietnam War in 1968 if only we would elect him. He got what he wanted by lying. We got a disease that didn’t go away by throwing money at it and a succession of more needless wars that don’t go away by throwing money at them. Seems like we wouldn’t keep falling for the same lies but we are a gullible people that like our stories. we never seem to grow up.