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Protect NIH Funding

Roy Jensen, MD

Cancer Center director Roy Jensen.

October 07, 2019

In the United States alone, it is projected there will be 2.3 million cancer cases diagnosed in 2030. The number of adults 65 and older is expected to grow from 49.2 million in 2016 to 74.1 million in 2030. Cancer is primarily a disease of aging, and researchers predict a “silver tsunami” of cancer patients whose health needs we are currently unprepared to meet.

Beyond the number of lives affected, we must also consider cancer’s enormous economic impact. In 2014, the direct medical costs of cancer care were $87.6 billion. For some perspective, that same year, the total National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget was $30.1 billion. About $5 billion went to the National Cancer Institute.

Simply put, the cost of cancer is high.

Our best chance to surmount this comes in the form of medical research. For research to continue, researchers need robust, sustained and predictable federal funding. By increasing our understanding of cancer risk factors, developing new and improved screening methods for cancer prevention and early detection, as well as applying basic lab discoveries to create new and improved cancer therapies, we can make a difference.

Investment in cancer research has led to major breakthroughs including immunotherapy, which uses the power of your body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. This revolutionary new approach, which involves engineering a patient’s immune cells to better fight cancer, has roots in the NIH and is the product of several decades of research collaboration.

There’s also precision medicine, which helps tailor treatment to your own unique genetic code. We now understand that a patient’s tumor can change genetically, causing cancer to grow and metastasize. One patient may experience a certain change in their cancer, another patient may not. Precision medicine helps us understand those nuances between cancer cases, so we can adjust treatment methods accordingly.

These findings are game changers in the treatment of cancer, but there is still work to be done.

The accomplishments of dedicated scientists, healthcare professionals and advocates are made possible through robust, sustained and predictable federal support. Every single discovery is the culmination of years – even decades – of work. It takes time and it takes money. For example, a 2012 study found that a 10% increase in the funding for a particular disease “yields about a 4.5% increase in novel drugs entering human clinical testing after a lag of up to 12 years.” Translation: NIH funding drives drug discoveries.

This fiscal year, members of Congress provided a $2 billion increase in NIH funding – this is an incredible commitment from our government, and I am thankful. However, the momentum of robust, sustained and predictable funding must continue. We are asking for an increase of at least $2 billion for the NIH in fiscal year 2019, for a total minimum funding level of $39.1 billion.

Research is the best tool we have to understand cancers and other diseases. I encourage you to join me in speaking to your representatives in Congress about the need to fund medical research.

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