AACR’s march on Washington

The foundation of the United States was not laid in the gloomy age of scientific drought but at an epoch when fostering innovation was better understood and more clearly defined. This is when the United States came into existence as a nation.

Cancer affects us all, either directly or indirectly. Cancer research is credited with saving millions of lives worldwide. Today, the United States is the cradle of discovery, and as a result inventive research became precision medicine. Every single cure prescribed in the clinic began with research. The catalyst for cures is federal funding. The NIH, the world’s largest funding platform of biomedical research, is the beating heart of cures, lives saved, the careers of a whole generation of committed young scientists and the embodiment of “America first”. The return for the people and business on government-supported NIH funding, is the discovery of 153 new FDA-approved drugs, vaccines and treatment paradigms with major reductions in death from heart disease, stroke, cancer and infections.  

On March 16, 2017, President Trump submitted a budget, where he proposes to cut the NIH funding budget by 1.2 billion out of the 2 billion increase for fiscal year 2017, and by 5.8 billion for fiscal year 2018.

These dreadful cuts further constrain an already troubled NIH budget. This proposal destroys the innovation of a whole generation of early scientists, hampers the momentum of American medical research, and endangers the health of Americans. How can this budget, which is called “America First”, truly position America first?

More than ever we need stone champions in the United States Congress, who will stand with us to ensure that our work for cancer patients continues at a rapid pace,” said Margaret Foti, CEO of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

All of these breakthroughs are happening at a watershed moment in cancer research. [Medical research budget cuts in America First] came as a terrible shock to the entire community,” said Nancy Davidson, 2016-2017 President of the AACR. 

The Republican leader and Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senator: Capitol Hill's sexual harassment reporting protocol is 'totally inappropriate' Senate passes resolution requiring mandatory sexual harassment training Strange bedfellows on criminal justice reform could offer Trump a legislative win MORE (R-Mo.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services joined us at the 2017 AACR annual meeting to emphasize on the need to fund biomedical research, when progress is being made.

What happens in NIH, what happens at the National Cancer Institute, what happens with precision medicine makes a big difference,” said Blunt.

Investing in biomedical research is linked to lives saved. The National Cancer Act, signed by President Nixon in 1971, had the single aim of taking medicines from the bench to the bed side. This governmental commitment changed the world of cancer care. As one example, tamoxifen that is credited with saving millions of lives of women following a diagnosis of breast cancer, would never have been developed without the National Cancer Act. Under the Clinton administration, the budget doubled over five years.

Bipartisan congressional support for health-related research has been evidenced by the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act. By the end of 2016, a 10-year budget of 6.3 billion was allocated to embark on a decade of medical innovation. This involves supporting former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenObama tweets birthday message to Biden: 'The best vice president anybody could have' The Hill's 12:30 Report Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny MORE’s Cancer Moonshot, which is guided by a Blue Ribbon Panel. The Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot has two pillars: injecting the urgency of now into the fight against cancer and changing the culture towards cancer treatment. Biden joined us at the 2017 AACR annual meeting with a compelling address.  

“You are an enormous enormous enormous resource for the country and the world, and I wish that the average person out there understood just how many of you have devoted your life to try to make their life, and the life of citizens here and people around the world better,” said Biden addressing an audience of more than 21,000 of cancer research advocates.

Biden expressed how cancer research remains a priority worldwide. “The President [Obama] assembled 50 heads of state in east room on a series of long broad rectangular tables. It was about nuclear nonproliferation. He sat with his back to the fireplace in that great room, and my back was to the hallway, the grand hallway. Before I began, he said very seriously: before we begin I know you all wanna speak to Joe about cancer, but let’s deal with nuclear proliferation first. Not a joke!” said Biden.       

With the current severe political divisions, it was a refreshing moment when Biden reminded us that America progresses only when there is a consensus among the two parties.

To my surprise, my friend, the Republican leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock McConnell PAC demands Moore return its money Klobuchar taking over Franken's sexual assault bill MORE, stood up and as we consent….,” Biden with an emotionally-charged voice, paused in his tracks for few seconds then continued to say: “…let the 1.8 billion dollar project be named after my son Beau Biden, and those things don’t happen very much those days. There is genuine genuine bipartisan support and this is because of the leadership in both political parties”.

Biden addressed the cuts in NIH funding and its far-reaching implications.

 “The President’s budget is counter to this hope and progress we made, and now we are standing around the cusp of delivering the promise of decades of research to develop new technologies new therapies, on the cusp of fundamentally transforming the impact of cancer on our society, on the cusp of saving and extending lives for Americans,” said Biden

 “The number of new grants for 2018 wouldn’t be cut by 20 percent, but one reliable estimate would be cut by up to 90 percent, closing labs, ending careers, delaying scientific breakthroughs. This is no time to undercut progress for god’s sake….and by the way I could think of so many things to cut money from, oh god bless me! Starting with the 1.3 trillion dollars in tax loopholes that aren’t collected every year!” added Biden

President John F. Kennedy, before a special joint session of Congress, invigorated a whole generation of scientists with his original Moon Shot. His steadfast investment in science and achievement resulted in Apollo 11 commander, Neil Armstrong, landing on the moon. This is considered one of the historic moments when America committed and challenged the Soviet Union.

At the AACR, the biggest organization dedicated to cancer research, more than 21,000 AACR members, including ourselves, stood in solidarity opposing the proposed cuts in NIH funding. Signs said: “Cancer research saves lives”. “Make NIH funding a national priority”, “Support medical research”. This was the AACR’s March on Washington.

We call on Congress, on behalf of the potential loss of a whole generation of talented scientists, to fight against the proposed budget cuts during the legislative process for the 2018 appropriations to the NIH.

Balkees Abderrahman, M.D. is a fellow of Breast Medical Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center. V. Craig Jordan, OBE, Ph.D, DSc, FMedSci, FAACR, is Dallas/Ft. Worth Living Legend Chair of Cancer Research, a Member of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor of Breast Medical Oncology and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. 

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.