Cancer research community offers insight about progress and challenges
The research priorities of the national cancer program were under examination during a recent hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, entitled "NCI Cancer Research: Today's Progress; Tomorrow's Challenges."
A diverse panel of witnesses, including Robert S. DiPaola, M.D., director of The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, who testified on behalf of the AACR, was invited to Capitol Hill to provide insight into the work of the NCI.
Subcommittee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) commenced the hearing by remarking on the great progress that has occurred in the war against cancer and the promising innovations on the horizon. He then noted the challenges that remain. Pallone, who lost his mother to pancreatic cancer, expressed his primary concern that rare and deadly cancers receive a fraction of NCI research funding compared with other cancers, yet are responsible for half of all cancer deaths.
Dr. Anna Barker, deputy director of the NCI, testified that advances in molecular biology and technologies, such as The Cancer Genome Atlas, are transforming the understanding of cancer. She emphasized that low availability of rare cancer specimens and the lack of a standardized biospecimen network are the most prominent barriers to progress against rare cancers.
Dr. DiPaola emphasized that investigators are making breakthroughs in the understanding of the biology of cancer that will translate to better treatments for all cancers. "To capitalize on the remarkable scientific and technical advances, however, we need to continue to invest," he said. "We need to reinforce our army of researchers who have already accelerated our ability to translate discoveries into results for patients, through research in diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancer."
Jeff Allen, Ph.D., executive director of Friends of Cancer Research, cited the vital need to increase collaboration across federal agencies and to increase public-private partnerships. Megan Gordon Don, chair of the Deadly Cancer Coalition and director of government affairs of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and Kristin W. Fitzgerald, whose husband died eight months after he was diagnosed with gastric cancer, provided moving patient perspectives on the issue.
The Subcommittee on Health will use the information gained from the hearing to shape legislative priorities for the remainder of the 110th Congress. In particular, it was suggested that the 21st Century Cancer Access to Lifesaving Early Detection, Research and Treatment (ALERT) Act may be on the subcommittee’s agenda soon. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) has taken the lead on drafting the House companion to the ALERT Act, which was introduced in the Senate in early 2009 by Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). The legislation is intended to revitalize the war on cancer by modernizing and advancing the National Cancer Program of the United States.
Read more from the April 2010 Edition of the AACR Cancer Policy Monitor: