Money could mean a breakthrough. That was the underlying – and uplifting -- message this week at the American Association for Cancer Research’s 100th Annual Meeting, where officials touted a three percent surge in federal dollars for this year and next that will go toward making serious dents in cancer treatment and prevention.
When Pres. Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law back in February, he doled out an unprecedented $10 billion to the National Institutes of Health including an estimated $1.2 billion to the National Cancer Institute.
It marks the first time in four years that cancer funding has not remained flat.
This week’s high-profile summit was also the first time the financial windfall was discussed in concrete terms. NCI Director John E. Niederhuber spoke of funding more grants, personalizing cancer care and accelerating genetic programs. That would be in stark contrast to the past few years when labs have had to let go staff and the pace of progress has been slow, he confessed.
In ambitious rhetoric, Niederhuber promised nothing less than a fundamental change in cancer science.
“This is not a time to be timid in our vision,” he said. “By our vision and our creative actions, we must demonstrate that NCI is worthy of sustained, increased support, for years to come. NCI needs to lead with a clear direction that will hasten the pace of cancer research.”
It’s important to remember that the extra dollars will only last for until 2010, meaning tangible results will be the only way to keep the money flowing.
But the Obama-Biden overall plan to combat cancer calls for some pretty heavy reforms over time. They include doubling the long-range funding for cancer research, doubling the pitifully low percentage (5) of cancer patients actually enrolled in clinical trials and studying how to better help the growing number of cancer survivors that make it five years past their treatment.
-- Dena Levitz is a D.C.-based writer who is also the daughter of a breast cancer survivor.