Varmus and Woodcock engage legislators about cancer research priorities
Following the release of the landmark Cancer Progress Report 2011, the AACR continued the momentum last week by sponsoring two congressional briefings. The events brought National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Harold Varmus, M.D., and Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the Office of Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to Capitol Hill where they discussed issues affecting cancer research with legislators and key policy aides.
Congressional Briefing with FDA and AACR’s Regulatory Science and Policy Task Force
Pictured above: Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA Office of Drug Evaluation and Research, Rep. Phil Gingrey, M.D., and Frank McCormick, Ph.D., FRS, chair of the AACR Regulatory Science and Policy Task Force
During the first briefing, members of Congress and key policy aides had the opportunity to hear from Woodcock about how the agency is innovating in response to breakthroughs and advances in science. The event was hosted by Rep. Phil Gingrey, M.D. (R-Ga.), a physician who is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) also participated in the discussion, along with numerous congressional staff and members of the AACR Regulatory Science and Policy Task Force [Adobe Acrobat Reader required].
The upcoming reauthorization of the prescription drug and medical device user fee programs, which allow FDA to collect fees from brand drug and biotech companies to offset the cost of review, provides an opportunity for Congress to assess the needs of the agency. The AACR sponsored this briefing to provide legislators and their staff an opportunity to hear directly from Woodcock about the efforts of the agency and how user fees and appropriated funds will be used to facilitate the delivery of much needed medical products to patients. A proposal for the prescription drug user fee program, agreed to by FDA and industry, was recently published on FDA’s website, and a meeting to gather public input will be held in late October.
During the briefing, it was noted that if FDA’s budget is cut, the agency’s ability to incorporate scientific advances into the regulatory framework will be severely impaired. Earlier this year, the House passed a spending bill that would cut FDA by $285 million, an 11.5 percent reduction, in fiscal year 2012. By contrast, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that would increase FDA’s budget by $50 million in FY2012; however, most of the proposed increase is for implementation of food safety initiatives.
Congressional Briefing for House Republican Study Committee Members
Pictured above: Rep. Brian Bilbray, NCI Director Harold Varmus, M.D., and Rep. Michael McCaul
In an effort to bring to light the return on the nation’s investment in biomedical and cancer research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the NCI, the AACR sponsored a second congressional briefing featuring NCI Director Harold Varmus, for the House Republican Study Committee. This was a unique and important occasion for Varmus to communicate directly with members of Congress and their staff, especially given the fact that, for the first time that anyone can recall, House appropriators have not given the NIH director or other NIH institute directors, like Varmus, the opportunity to appear before the committee that has jurisdiction over NIH funding to testify about budgetary needs for the upcoming fiscal year.
The briefing was also timed to coincide with congressional work on the FY2012 appropriations bills. The evening before the briefing, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that included a $190 million cut to NIH. The House Appropriations Committee earlier this month cancelled the markup of its Labor-HHS-Education spending bill and has yet to reschedule it.
The Republican Study Committee is a faction of 175 House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative agenda and limited government. The AACR event was facilitated by Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) and Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas). Numerous study committee member offices were represented and members of the AACR Science Policy and Legislative Affairs Committee were also in attendance.
Varmus praised the United States for setting the standard for biomedical research through its commitment to medical research funding. This investment has led to critical advances in our understanding of cancer and underlies our successes against the disease, which are best measured by the steadily falling death rates of recent years.
Read More from the September Edition of the AACR Cancer Policy Monitor: