A new report out today by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) highlights the real challenges facing researchers working to find new ways to diagnose, treat and even prevent cancer. Even though there are more cancer survivors living today than ever before – and they are living longer than ever before – much important work still lies ahead.
The AACR Cancer Progress Report 2013 notes that more than 13.7 million cancer survivors are alive today, compared to just 3 million survivors in 1971. That’s due to cancer research and biomedical science, which have led to new drug discoveries, innovative imaging technologies, advances in targeted therapies and anticancer immunotherapies. But at the same time, more than 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and the growing elderly population is expected to result in a large increase of cancer deaths. Smoking and obesity, two huge risk factors for a variety of cancers, continue to be a problem.
All of this is happening at a time when vital research dollars through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are getting harder and harder to come by. An already shrinking NIH budget was decreased 5.1 percent this year due to sequestration, resulting in a loss of $1.6 billion. The National Cancer Institute lost $293 million. According to the AACR report, the NIH is now funding the lowest number of research projects since 2001.
“If we are to ultimately transform scientific discoveries into therapies that improve and save the lives of cancer patients, it is going to require an unwavering commitment of Congress and the administration to invest in our country’s remarkably productive cancer research and biomedical research enterprise led by the NIH and NCI,” the AACR report states.
Here at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Insitute (UPCI), we rely heavily on federal support of our research. In fiscal year 2012, our investigators received more than $52 million from the NCI alone. The projects underway at UPCI include investigations into dietary factors to prevent cancer in preclinical models of prostate cancer, combinatorial immunotherapy for melanoma, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents in colon cancer prevention and work to advance our knowledge about biomarkers for the Merkel cell virus, one of the seven viruses known to cause cancer in humans.
In April, I attended the AACR annual meeting in Washington, D.C., where thousands came together in the “Rally for Medical Research” to highlight the need for more, not less, research funding. It is a rally cry that is vitally important, not only to those cancer patients already diagnosed but to those future generations as we strive to truly live in a world that is cancer free.
Nancy E. Davidson, M.D., is director of UPMC CancerCenter and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.