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New Evidence of Strong Public Support for Federal Spending for Cancer Research

Eastman, Peggy

doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000473092.24046.92
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A new survey from the American Association for Cancer Research, released in conjunction with the organization's fifth annual Cancer Progress Report to Congress, shows that 74 percent of American voters support increased federal expenditures for cancer research. Nearly half (49%) are strongly in favor of that increase.

In an interview, AACR President José Baselga, MD, PhD, Physician-in-Chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said he was very encouraged that the American public feels so strongly about the need for increased federal cancer research funding (see article on page 20).

The survey shows that by a margin of five to one, voters say they would be more likely to vote for a Presidential candidate who supports making cancer research a national priority through sustained increases in federal expenditures.

The results indicate that overall, nearly 70 percent of Americans consider increased funding for medical research on cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease to be a high priority for Congress. That figure is on a par with the percentage who want increased funding for public education.

The percentage of people urging federal support for cancer research funding is even higher than that for those supporting increased funding for military and veterans (68%); reductions in student debt/more affordable college costs (61%); and funding for road and highway improvements (56%).

The survey was conducted this summer (July 25 to 29), among a national cross-section of 1,000 registered U.S. voters, by Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies. The interviews were done via telephone, and included landlines, cell phones, and VOIP connections.

Reducing National Debt and Federal Spending

The new survey data reveal that American voters want higher federal funding for biomedical research despite the fact that 75 percent of survey respondents also consider reducing the national debt and federal spending to be a high priority for Congress.

The results also showed that 85 percent of American voters recognize that progress is being made against cancer. Respondents of all ages also said that among diseases and major health conditions, cancer was what they were most worried about developing (ahead of Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and HIV/AIDS).

Call for 7% Increase for NIH

Armed with these new survey data, AACR has issued a call to action to Congress and the administration to implement a strategy of providing annual federal budget increases of at least seven percent for the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, and the Food and Drug Administration beginning in fiscal year 2016.

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“There is no time to waste when, in the United States alone, we are losing one person every minute of every day to the devastating collection of diseases we call cancer,” Baselga said in the introduction to the report, co-written with AACR CEO Margaret Foti, PhD.

‘Unwavering Bipartisan Support’

The AACR 2015 Progress Report shows that the U.S. five-year survival rate for all cancers combined increased from 49 percent in the mid-1970s to 68 percent in 2010, with 14.5 million cancer survivors alive today.

“The Progress against cancer highlighted in the report underscores how unwavering, bipartisan support from Congress and the administration, in the form of sustained increases in funding for the NIH, NCI, and FDA, are vital if we are to continue to make progress for the benefit of families everywhere,” Baselga said in the executive summary of the report.

The clear message of the survey, he said, is that the American people have the same message for Congress as the AACR does: increased funding for cancer research needs to be a national priority.

High Costs, High Toll of Suffering

The report notes that cancer is a costly disease that exerts an economic burden on society as well as a high toll of suffering on patients and their families, and that research is a vital investment to reduce that economic burden.

In the United States, the estimated direct medical costs of cancer care in 2010 were $125 billion; these costs will likely rise to $156 billion in 2020, according to statistics cited in the report.

“These costs stand in stark contrast to the NIH budget for fiscal year (FY) 2015, which is $30.3 billion,” the AACR document states. They stand in even starker contrast to the total National Cancer Institute budget for fiscal year 2015, which is just $5 billion. The aging of the population, coupled with the fact that almost 70 percent of U.S. cancer cases are diagnosed in people age 55 and older, means that cancer incidence will likely continue to rise.

Specific Advances

The progress report notes the encouraging recent advances of the following FDA approvals between August 2014 and July 31, 2015:

  • Nine new anti-cancer therapies;
  • New uses for six previously approved anticancer therapies;
  • A new use for an imaging agent;
  • A new cancer screening test; and
  • A new cancer prevention agent.
  • Specifically, drugs included in the advances mentioned in the 2015 report are:
  • The angiogenesis inhibitors bevacizumab, lenvatinib, and ramucirumab;
  • The bone-remodeling inhibitor denosumab;
  • The cell-signaling inhibitors gefitinib, ibrutinib, palbociclib, and sonidegib;
  • The DNA repair inhibitor olaparib;
  • The epigenome-modifying agent panobinostat;
  • The immunotherapies blinatumomab, dinutuximab, nivolumab, and pembrolizumab;
  • The imaging agent technetium 99m tilmanocept (for lymphatic mapping in solid tumors);
  • The cancer screening test Cologuard (for colorectal cancer); and
  • The preventive vaccine human papillomavirus 9-valent vaccine (types 6, 11, 16,18, 31,33,45, 52 and 58) for cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers.

Four Immunotherapies

The four immunotherapies approved by the FDA during the same period represent the largest number of immunotherapeutic agents approved in a 12-month period since the first AACR Cancer Progress Report was published in 2011, the new report states—“highlighting how this powerful form of cancer treatment has emerged as a key pillar of cancer care.”

Precision Medicine

The report, which features the stories of 13 cancer patients, hails the promise of precision medicine, noting that increasingly, anticancer therapies are precisely targeted against factors responsible for the cancer, thus reducing harm to normal cells.

“Although precision medicine is not unique to the practice of oncology, oncology is leading such efforts largely because of our immense knowledge of the role of genetic mutations in the development and progression of cancer,” the AACR document says. “As we look to the future, the pace of progress in precision medicine will continue to accelerate.”

Rally for Medical Research

In conjunction with the release of its report, AACR held a Congressional briefing and reception to celebrate the contributions of medical research and highlight the need for Congress to support a strong, sustained funding stream for cancer research. The Senate NIH Caucus, led by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), was an honorary sponsor.

AACR also sponsored a breakfast and Rally for Medical Research Hill Day featuring members of Congress, AACR CEO Foti, and Sue Peschin, CEO of the Alliance for Aging Research, among many others. During the Hill Day, hundreds converged on Capitol Hill for meetings with House and Senate staffers to make the case for “robust, sustained, and predictable” funding increases for cancer research for 2016 and beyond (read more about it on page 40).

AACR, the founding organizer, partnered with some 300 organizations across the country to spread the message about stronger support for biomedical research; this was the third such event that has been held in Washington.

Copyright © 2015 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.
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