Damon Runyon Blog

October 31, 2016

Mary Woolley, President and CEO, Research!America


For so many reasons -- speeding the day we put cancer in the history books, maintaining global leadership in research and innovation, fueling economic growth in the process, and giving thousands of young scientists the reality, not just the hope, of a meaningful career, the next Administration has every reason to act swiftly to make research for health a much higher national priority. But great reasons aside, this might not happen. Not only are there other worthy priorities including education, infrastructure and security, but policymakers often slip into taking medical progress for granted. And it's true that science in recent years has gained new insights on ways to better prevent, detect, and treat many areas of cancer in adults and children. There are many stories in the mainstream media about the excitement and promise of precision medicine and CRISPR/CAS9, and not least, the Vice President’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. We know from Research!America commissioned polls that Americans are paying attention to the Moonshot. In fact, half are willing to pay more in taxes to support cancer research.


But rekindled public hope is not a strategy in and of itself. This year an estimated 1.6 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. This statistic, along with individual and family suffering and a very high economic cost, has gotten the attention of policymakers. Congress provided an additional $2 billion in funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in FY16, the largest increase in nearly a decade. But prospects for a funding boost for the NIH and other federal health agencies in FY17 remain uncertain, despite demonstrated need and  public enthusiasm. The next President's first budget for science and health agencies should be bold, so as to further embolden the next Congress.  Anything less will not only jeopardize progress, and limit research and researchers supported by the National Cancer Institute, but once again discourage the next generation of scientists.


Stakeholders in research -- meaning everyone who depends upon it, including all of us who are patients now or in the future -- must speak out in multiple forums to compel the attention of our new President and Congress, reminding them of the lives that are at stake and the imperative for young scientists to spend more time in the lab as opposed to chasing diminishing numbers of federal grants and other funding. We can afford it!  Americans are slated to spend more on Halloween this year than we allocate to the National Cancer Institute!  


Everyone who cares about the future of health, which is, after all, driven by success in research, must stop sitting on their hands and speak up.  Use media of all kinds to ask our new President to not only continue but expand the Cancer Moonshot.  Use the State of the Union address to advance a bold commitment to putting the full research and innovation ecosystem to work for every man, woman and child in our nation and then send a budget to Congress that reflects that commitment. Regardless of the outcome of this election, the future of research must become a higher national priority. It will if more of us, patients, scientists and advocates, become relentless making our case. Let's start now!