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American Association for Cancer Research Hosts Briefing on Cancer Progress, NIH Funding

March 13, 2014
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WASHINGTON — The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) hosted a briefing March 13 for members of Congress and their staffs to showcase the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2013. The report highlights the remarkable progress that investments in cancer research and biomedical science made for cancer patients and survivors in 2013 and the need for all stakeholders to intensify their efforts in supporting cancer research and biomedical science, particularly in these challenging fiscal times.

The briefing, “Making Research Count for Patients: A Continual Pursuit,” was held in the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill. Speakers focused on the recent advances in cancer research, with a focus on immunotherapy, and the challenges created by current levels of funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), chief executive officer of the AACR, said progress is evidenced by the nearly 14 million cancer survivors in the United States. A decline of 1 percent each year in the cancer death rate for the past two decades has resulted in more than 1 million lives saved.

“It is an extraordinarily exciting time for cancer research, but the sad and, indeed, frustrating reality is that our ability to deliver the promise of science to patients is in great jeopardy,” said Foti. “Despite the $1 billion in funds that were restored to the NIH and NCI in January, these agencies’ budgets remain far below what they were in fiscal year 2012 because of sequestration. And when taking into account medical inflation, NIH’s ability to fund lifesaving research has been cut by more than 20 percent over the past decade.”

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), said increased funding for cancer research are personal and professional priorities.

“As a policymaker who sits on the Appropriations Committee, and a survivor of breast cancer, I have an acute understanding of what it means for research agencies to have the resources they need to better understand and beat cancer. I strongly believe that more research equals more lives saved, and I thank the American Association for Cancer Research for their advocacy and their expertise,” said Wasserman Schultz.

Charles Sawyers, M.D., president of the AACR and chairman of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said the progress against cancer is directly related to the investments made in the NIH and NCI.

According to Sawyers, in the last 18 months, 13 new drugs have been approved to treat a variety of cancers, and six new drugs have been given new indications. Additionally, three new imaging technologies have been approved. Sawyers said there are now 41 Food and Drug Administration-approved therapies that target specific molecules involved in cancer, compared with 17 five years ago and just five 10 years ago.

“Although precision medicine is a relatively new concept, it is already transforming the lives of many cancer patients. We have reached a defining moment where we are taking precision approaches to several cancers, wherein genetic information about a person’s disease is being used to diagnose or treat their disease,” said Sawyers. “We envision a future in which we do this for every cancer.”

During the briefing, Hans Loland, who is living with chronic myelogenous leukemia, detailed his story of lifesaving treatment.

“Research is what gives us hope for cures one day and the hope that all cancers may have effective treatment options one day,” said Loland.

Representative Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008. At today’s briefing he voiced his support for continued NIH and NCI funding as a bipartisan issue.

“While my diagnosis has given me a new outlook on life, it has also made me a better advocate for the rights of citizens dealing with cancer. I am more passionate than ever about expressing the need for additional money for cancer research to ensure that this disease is thoroughly overcome. In both the 112th and 113th Congresses, I joined a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress calling for continued support to the National Institutes of Health for their important medical research. This work is critical to sustain advances in science and health care, to determine the best prevention and treatment practices, and to ultimately help us gain a better understanding of the diseases and conditions that affect millions of Americans,” said Fitzpatrick.

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