July 6, 2017 - The future of cancer care depends on continued federal funding for medical research, Louis M. Weiner, MD, director of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said during a panel discussion in front of a crowded room on Capitol Hill.
“In 2017, about 1.7 million Americans are going to hear the words that no one wants to hear - ‘you have cancer’ - and about 600,000 will succumb to the disease,” Weiner said. “That’s our families, our friends, our neighbors who are getting these diseases. We need to do better and we are doing better.”
Weiner spoke as the moderator of a June 29 panel discussion in the Cannon House Office Building organized by the bipartisan House Cancer Caucus. In opening remarks, the caucus co-chairs all expressed their support for funding to support cancer research.
“One of the most exciting things we get to do in this job is to invest in things where you actually see real results that change real lives,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., House Cancer Caucus co-chair. “In cancer, we know that this is a devastating disease, killing one out of every four Americans. It touches the lives of everyone in this room and everyone across America, whether they’re a Democrat or a Republican. It’s a nonpartisan disease and our solutions are nonpartisan as well.”
“When we make investments in research, we’re making investments in cures and we’re making investments in hope for every one of our families that is touched by cancer,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., House Cancer Caucus co-chair.
Investments in medical research can yield significant dividends over time. Research from the Human Genome Project started in the 1990s and eventually laid the groundwork for molecular tumor profiling, which Weiner used to develop a treatment plan including immunotherapy for a patient with an unusual cancer.
“The treatment that I decided to offer her was based upon fundamental research from the 1990s and 2000s to help us understand how cancers evade recognition and destruction by the body’s immune system,” Weiner said. “That all culminated in my recommendation to give this patient this kind of treatment.”
Months after starting the treatment, the patient’s CAT scans showed that her lung metastases had completely disappeared. “She felt great, she looked great, we did a little victory dance in the exam room, and she’s here today,” Weiner said, introducing his patient, Diane Lucey. “She’s why I became an oncologist and she’s why I became a cancer researcher and that’s what we do and that’s why we’re here.”
Investments in drug development can also take years to pay off. Two cancer drugs, Gleevec and Herceptin, “were the result of 20 or 30 years of research, uninterrupted,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-NY, House Cancer Caucus co-chair. “So what I’m telling you is that cancer research is really an issue of life or death because when Congress does not sustain a robust level of funding, those promising new therapies in areas like immunotherapy are delayed and those treatments are denied people who need them today.”
The Future of Cancer Research Funding
The number of cancer deaths has declined significantly since the passage of the National Cancer Act in 1971, Weiner said, and with sustained federal research funding, scientists can continue to develop new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. “It starts with the American people,” Weiner said. “It starts with Congress appropriating the types of resources we need to do this work.”
“We’re going to continue to work to make sure that medical research is funded,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Penn., House Cancer Caucus co-chair, adding that Congress increased NIH funding from $30 billion to $34 billion over two years in the most recent budget. “I can tell you that our commitment to medical research continues. Despite the budget uncertainty, that commitment remains.”