Contact: Bob Weiner/Rebecca Vander Linde 202-329-1700 or 202-306-1200
GETTING CLOSER TO CONTROLLING CANCER REQUIRES FUNDING MORE LABORATORES AND COMMITMENT BEYOND TWO YEARS OF NEW STIMULUS, Weiner and Berg Assert in Denver Post Oped
(Washington, DC and Denver, CO) – “Getting closer to controlling cancer” requires funding more laboratories and a commitment beyond the two years of the new federal stimulus, say former White House Drug Policy spokesman Robert Weiner and a George Washington University Medical Center breast cancer laboratory director, Dr. Patricia Berg, in an oped in today’s Denver Post.
Weiner, Berg, and former government analyst Paulette Garthoff, who has a family member who is a breast cancer survivor, point out that “cancer still killed 565,000 Americans last year. Although the death rate has declined two percent a year since 1999, 1,500 Americans a day still die from the disease – cancer is the nation’s number-two killer behind heart disease.”
Weiner and Berg assert, “The federal stimulus legislation signed by President Obama is creating a sense of excitement for the 17,000 scientists attending the American Association for Cancer Research 100th annual meeting under way in Denver, but only a small portion of the new $1.2 billion -- $100-200 million – goes to innovative research by small laboratories for ‘challenge’ grants. That is where the excitement begins to unravel a bit because less than 10 percent of grant applications for small laboratories making novel discoveries are expected to be approved.”
“In addition, Stimulus money provides a useful two-year increase -- and NIH insiders are concerned about what happens after that. Research must not end in two years.”
According to Weiner and Berg, “From discovering genes activated in breast and prostate cancer, to finding drugs to suppress cancers, to creating new diagnostic tools to locate and prevent the spread of the disease, the basic scientist’s mission is a major part of the progress that has reduced cancer mortality rates significantly between 1990 and 2004, avoiding more than a half million deaths.”
The authors say that the word “cancer” is misunderstood--it encompasses more than 200 diseases according to Dr. Margaret Foti, AACR’s CEO, interviewed by Weiner and Berg. Dr. Foti says that “institutions all over the country are having emergency meetings” on how to apply for a share of the stimulus money and “maximize the opportunity” this moment creates. Foti, who has spent 27 years running the country’s primary cancer research scientists’ organization, presses the point that cancer investigators are “right at the threshold of major discoveries” and “basic scientific knowledge is waiting” to be uncovered. She notes the interlocking relationships among cancers—what she calls “a cascade of genes. Breakthroughs for one will pay off for others. For example, she says that researchers are poised “to extrapolate breast and ovarian cancer findings to other cancers.”
Weiner and Berg point out that “the under 10% NCI funding of requested research projects is down from 25 percent a decade ago – and because of new applications the stimulus will not change that significantly. NIH has seen its budget go down in real terms every year for the past seven, a 14 percent decline.”
Dr. Foti asserts that funds are needed to “keep the lab research engine going, ensure new drugs to get into the clinical-trials pipeline, and support the development of molecular therapies.”
Weiner and Berg argue, “There is no substitute for the Federal research catalyst.” They point to data compiled by Mark Hurlbert, the Avon Foundation's senior adviser for grants and partnerships, who has noted that for breast cancer alone, $600 million annually has come from NCI before the Stimulus and the Department of Defense has provided $2.2 billion total since 1992, versus $900 from Komen million since 1988, Avon $520 million since 1992, and Revlon $110 million since 1992.
The authors conclude, “President Obama has declared April ‘Cancer Control Month.’ With the proper mix of funding for institutions large and small and with a commitment to multi-year research, we will be closer to controlling cancer.
Weiner is former White House National Drug Policy public affairs director, and former chief of staff of the U.S. House Aging Committee and Health Subcommittee. Berg is director of a breast cancer laboratory at George Washington University Medical Center’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Professor of Molecular Biology. Garthoff is a former government analyst who has a family member who is a breast cancer survivor.