A disease that affects one-third to one-half of all Americans garners less than one dollar of every thousand our nation spends. I can’t say that I know the ‘right’ proportion for spending on cancer research, but I do know that this is the wrong one.
—Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP
By every definition, ASCO’s 50th Annual Meeting was a huge success. The halls were buzzing as nearly 35,000 attendees shared excitement about cancer research.
This was a banner year for federally funded clinical trials—all four of the abstracts selected for ASCO’s Plenary Session were backed by funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as were so many of the other studies that captured news headlines.
But the U.S. clinical research system is facing unprecedented challenges. Today NIH’s purchasing power is 23% lower than it was in 2003. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) plans to cut enrollment in federally funded clinical trials by 15% over the next few years, scaling yearly enrollment back to as low as 17,000 patients in intervention trials.1
Federally funded clinical research answers questions that are critically important to patients—like comparing the effectiveness of two regimens, finding new uses for generic drugs, and finding new ways to improve patients’ quality of life. These are often trials industry wouldn’t have reason to conduct.
Greater Investment in Cancer Research Needed
In my presidential address, I laid out a challenge: creating a “world free of the fear of cancer.” I believe it’s possible, but only if our nation’s investment of resources matches our nation’s need.
In 2013, the U.S. federal budget was almost $4 trillion. Of that, the NCI component was $5 billion. Roughly speaking, just 0.1% of federal spending goes to the NCI. A disease that affects one-third to one-half of all Americans garners less than one dollar of every thousand our nation spends. I can’t say that I know the “right” proportion for spending on cancer research, but I do know that this is the wrong one.
A quote from Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society Speech in 1964, describing his intention to eliminate poverty and racial injustice, rings poignantly true today as we strive to realize a world free from the fear of cancer. He said, we “can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”
I hope you will join me in my call to our nation’s legislators and leaders for greater investment in cancer research—one that is commensurate with our nation’s need, ambition, and intention. We can afford it. And we can’t afford to lose. ■
© 2014. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.
1. National Cancer Institute: An overview of NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network. May 29, 2014. Available at http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials/nctn. Accessed July 3, 2014.
Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, is Immediate Past President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. A longer version of this article originally appeared on ASCO’s CancerProgress.Net website.