Eric Rosenthal Reports

Thoughts and observations about issues, trends, and controversies in the cancer community.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Rally for Medical Research Rallies Some 8,000 Supporters Representing Diverse Diseases


WASHINGTON -- Today’s Rally for Medical Research, which preempted the American Association for Cancer Research’s (AACR) annual meeting here for an hour-and-a-half, drew, according to AACR estimates, 8,000 people interested in encouraging United States policymakers to make medical research funding a national priority through increased support for the National Institutes of Health.


The effort, initiated by AACR, brought together some 200 organizations representing all disease types to make the case that cutting the budget at this time of unprecedented scientific discovery is bad not only for health but also for the economy, a strategy that was aimed at a vulnerable spot in grassroots Congressional districts where additional job losses would not be helpful for those seeking reelection.

2013 AACR/Todd Buchanan

Somewhat reminiscent of 1998’s “The MARCH…Coming Together to Conquer Cancer,” the rally on Washington, DC's National Mall to spread the common message of “No More Cancer,” this Rally was unprecedented since, as Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley explained, it was the first large-scale public event to encompass multiple diseases.


I happened to be speaking with her at a reception after the Rally when AACR CEO Margaret Foti, PhD, announced that AACR and Research!America planned “to keep the effort going” beyond today.


“We want to make sure that the health community has a constant presence in the media and on Capitol Hill, and that people engage in grassroots activities at home,” Woolley said, adding that it was important that more voices speak out.


The Rally was held on the grounds of the Carnegie Library across the street from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and was attended by researchers, advocates, survivors, clinicians, business leaders, and the general public – all encouraged to keep chanting “together for more progress, more hope, more life.”


The event was emceed by Cokie Roberts, Political Analyst for ABC News and NPR Senior News Analyst, who unabashedly showed her strong advocacy side as a cancer survivor, and included comments from Foti, members of Congress, advocates representing various diseases, a scientist, and actor and breast cancer survivor Maura Tierney in her role as a Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) Celebrity Ambassador.


SU2C cofounder Rusty Robertson, who was seated among the various VIPs representing supporting organizations, told me the Rally had inspired her to visit her congressman from California while she was in Washington.


As reported earlier, NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, canceled as a speaker, but apparently Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) didn’t get the memo, since she mentioned him among the other speakers.


I also learned that employees of the National Cancer Institute had been told they could attend the Rally only if they did so on their lunch hour or took personal time. Harold Varmus, MD, in his NCI Director’s Update immediately preceding the event, deftly noted the Rally in his opening remarks without endorsing it to avoid any conflicts of interest.


The other speakers included:

  • Regan Hofmann, an advocate who is living with HIV;
  • Brian Boucher, an advocate and father of a young leukemia survivor;
  • Gina Gavlak, an advocate and Type 1 diabetes survivor;
  • Marc Tessier-Lavigne, PhD, President of Rockefeller University and former Chief Scientific Officer with Genentech Inc.;
  • Juddson Rupp, advocate and heart disease survivor;
  • Melanie Nix, advocate and breast cancer survivor;
  • Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), who represents the district where NIH is located;
  • Amy Edmunds, advocate and stroke survivor;
  • Gee Gerke, Alzheimer’s disease advocate and caregiver;
  • Former Republican Congressman from Illinois John Edward Porter, who had been a champion for biomedical research when he was in the House, and is currently Chair of Research!America.

I had interviewed Porter two years ago when he received AACR’s Award for Distinguished Service and Global Impact in Cancer and Biomedical Research for his significant and sustained contributions to cancer and biomedical research, and mentioned to Woolley about his having had the distinction of being among a select group of members of Congress to have had a building on the NIH campus in Bethesda named in his honor in 2001: Building 35, the John Edward Porter Neurosciences Research Center.


Woolley noted that Porter was the last policymaker to be so honored, and after lamenting the dearth of current congressional champions, said, “We want to make sure that there are a lot of people to chose from [in the future] who could be honored with this kind of recognition.”

I’ll be following up on the Rally in future articles or posts.