Funding for Cancer Research
Don’t let Cancer Research
fall off of the Fiscal Cliff
by Robert C. Bast, Jr., M.D.
Member, The V Foundation Board
People often ask if we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we cure cancer? There are several answers to this question, but one of the most important is that we are not investing enough each year in cancer research. Jimmy V knew this as he faced his battle with cancer, and he was appalled.
Since Jimmy’s death, significant advances have been made in laboratories and clinics around the world. Many of the most important advances have been made here in the United States funded primarily by taxpayer dollars through highly competitive grants from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to physicians and scientists at cancer centers and universities. Whatever your politics, this has been a wise investment that has produced an explosion of new knowledge about cancer at the level of cells and molecules. We are now poised to translate that knowledge to personalize cancer care – writing different prescriptions to target the abnormalities in each patient’s cancer – but progress has been slowed and now is threatened by inadequate and uncertain funding for cancer research.
More than two decades ago, Congressional Republicans and Democrats came together to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health that includes NCI. Since 2003, the NCI budget has, however, remained essentially flat at $6 billion each year (1/636 of the federal budget). Considering inflation, the purchasing power for cancer research has actually declined by nearly 20% over the last decade. Today, only 13% of grant applications are funded, so more than 85% of new approaches to prevent, detect or treat cancer are never tested. Young scientists have been hardest hit and are leaving cancer research, compromising progress for decades to come.
Now, on the eve of 2013, we are faced with the additional uncertainty of the “fiscal cliff.” When the “Super Committee” failed to find the funds to raise the debt ceiling last summer, “sequestration” with automatic across-the-board spending cuts was scheduled for January 1, 2013. As NCI-sponsored cancer research is not an entitlement, but considered discretionary spending, an additional 8% of cancer funding will be cut abruptly, losing the equivalent of nearly 500 grants, further slowing progress and encouraging the exit of additional young scientists who are poised to translate our new knowledge to better care and cure of cancer patients.
What can you do today to accelerate progress in cancer research? Phone, write or e-mail your Congressman to find a solution to “sequestration” that spares essential investment in cancer research. Consider a donation to The V Foundation which has supported more than 250 young scientists during the first years of their careers in cancer research and have funded more than 150 projects that move new knowledge from the laboratory to the clinic and the community. With the decline in federal funding, your contribution is more important than ever.