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Cancer Policy Monitor: November 9, 2021

Appropriations Update from Capitol Hill

-Marc B. Johnson, MPP

The Senate Appropriations Committee released the nine remaining FY 2022 spending bills on October 18. The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS) bill, introduced by Chairwoman Patty Murray, would provide a total of $47.9 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an increase of $2.7 billion for the NIH base budget and $2.4 billion for the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). The National Cancer Institute (NCI) would receive $6.7 billion. In addition, the bill would provide $388 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Cancer Prevention and Control programs. For more information, view the explanatory statement and view the bill summary.

These bills will provide a starting point for negotiations with the House on final appropriations levels for FY 2022.  Congress will need to take action before the current CR expires on December 3 to either pass the FY 2022 appropriations bills or pass another CR to extend FY 21 funding levels.

AACR Past President DuBois Testifies Before Congress on Cancer Screening and Prevention

On October 20, 2021, AACR Past President Raymond N. DuBois, MD, PhD, FAACR, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health to discuss the role research plays in determining cancer screening guidelines and developing novel screening methods. The hearing titled “Enhancing Public Health: Legislation to Protect Children and Families” provided the Health Subcommittee with an opportunity to hear from leading experts in the field on how to improve public health, and in particular, how federal policy can improve cancer screening and the early detection. Dr. DuBois spoke to the evolving science and importance of cancer screenings, highlighting how cancer screenings save lives by allowing physicians to treat cancer at an earlier stage, often resulting in less invasive treatment, quicker recovery, and at a lower cost. 

Dr. DuBois encouraged Congress “to consider the impact on the individual rather than on the broader population” when designing screening criteria, such as considering heightened cancer risk among underserved populations, genetics, occupation, environmental exposure, and lifestyle factors. He also discussed how cancer centers can bring new tools to at-risk communities, such as mobile screening vans, and work to reduce disparities in cancer screening and outcomes. Read Dr. DuBois’ testimony

AACR Releases Cancer Progress Report 2021

The AACR released its Cancer Progress Report 2021 on October 13 during a virtual congressional briefing. The report highlights how research largely supported by federal investments in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is spurring improvements in public health and innovative breakthroughs across the spectrum of cancer care.

AACR CEO Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), provided welcome remarks at the briefing and presented a video featuring highlights of the report. Panelists included AACR President David A. Tuveson, MD, PhD, FAACR, of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, MD; Helen E. Heslop, MD, DSc (Hon) of the Baylor College of Medicine; and two cancer survivors whose stories were included in the report: Susan Falbo and Bryan Chagolla.

The report, now in its 11th edition, is a cornerstone of the efforts of the AACR to educate policymakers and the broader public about cancer. It highlights the remarkable progress that we are making against cancer, and the importance of robust, sustained, and predictable annual funding increases for the NIH and NCI, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report features the stories of survivors of cancer who have benefitted from recent advances in research. Two members of Congress, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), also shared their perspectives. Additionally, this year’s report calls attention to the many ways the National Cancer Act of 1971 has made a difference for patients with cancer over the past 50 years.

To read more about the report, please see this article in the Cancer Research Catalyst, the official blog of the AACR. To view the full report, along with videos featuring the cancer survivors who shared their stories, please visit this page.

AACR Encourages CDC to Approve COVID-19 Boosters for Household Members and Caregivers for Patients with Cancer

– Calais Prince, PhD

In October, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) leadership including President David A. Tuveson, MD, PhD, FAACR, Past President Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, FAACR, and CEO Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc)  thanked Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for recommending COVID-19 boosters for people with moderate to severely compromised immune systems and for those that work in high-risk environments.  

The AACR letter to Dr. Walensky, also strongly encouraged the CDC to broaden access to COVID-19 boosters to household members and caretakers of patients with cancer. These recommendations were based on a recent article in Blood Cancer that detailed approaches that would maximize the protection of patients with blood cancers from COVID-19.

Increased protection in these populations against COVID-19 is crucial. Unfortunately, many patients with cancer and survivors have weakened immune systems. Several studies have reported that patients with blood cancers do not respond as well as healthy individuals to COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, many patients with cancer reside in homes where household members or caregivers are ineligible for COVID-19 boosters. Strengthening immunity to household members of patients with cancer is, therefore, essential to better protect the patient and improve treatment. The urgency to broaden booster availability was underscored by the untimely death of General Colin Powell, who was vaccinated against COVID-19 but immunocompromised due to multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.

 The AACR will continue to support and advocate for patients with cancer and survivors of cancer as we navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

EPA Announces First Ever Comprehensive Plan to Address PFAS Pollution

-Nicholas Warren, PhD

Poly- or per-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are known for their excellent ability to repel both water and oil in a vast array of consumer products, including non-stick pans, food packaging, cosmetics, carpets, clothing, and fire-fighting foam. However, due to the incredible strength of the chemical bond between fluorine and carbon atoms, PFAS persist for decades in nature and human bodies because they cannot be broken down. Consequently, PFAS exposures are associated with developing cancer, neurological issues, weakened immune systems, and infertility. While the health risks of PFAS have been known for decades, little has been done to prevent their release into the environment or clean up polluted sites.

This October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the first ever PFAS Strategic Roadmap. The roadmap details steps every EPA office will take to better understand PFAS, restrict release into the environment, and hold polluters accountable for cleaning up their pollution. A major provision of the roadmap will be to set an enforceable safe drinking water standard and require routine testing for the two most common PFAS chemicals. The roadmap also includes a plan for developing new regulations that would limit discharge of PFAS from large industry sources like manufacturers of organic chemicals, plastics, and synthetic fibers. Additionally, polluters would be required to pay for decontaminating PFAS as part of the Superfund program once the EPA classifies PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. All of these actions are based on data the EPA has already obtained. The EPA plans to research additional types of PFAS and emissions sources to inform additional rules in the future.

To inform Congress about the new PFAS strategy, EPA Assistant Administrator and Co-chair of the EPA’s new Council on PFAS, Radhika Fox, testified before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. Assistant Administrator Fox emphasized that the roadmap was developed with the EPA’s current authorities and funding levels in mind, but the timelines could be  moved up with additional support from Congress. In particular, the bipartisan infrastructure bill would provide more than $50 billion to help improve the safety of drinking water, $10 billion of which would be directed toward addressing PFAS contamination. Additionally, the House-passed PFAS Action Act would provide the EPA with greater authority and power to regulate PFAS pollution if it becomes law.

Register Now for the December 13 Virtual Patient Advocate Forum on Evolution and Cancer

Evolutionary theories are shaping how we understand the evolution of cancer and cancer metastasis. Learn more on Monday, December 13 (1-3:30 p.m. ET) at a free virtual patient advocate forum. Moderated by Anna Barker, we will explore ways that cancer evolution can drive new approaches towards developing more effective therapeutic targets.

Register Now:  TBD

Announcement of the 2022-2024 AACR Science Policy Fellowship

The AACR recently announced that applications are open for the 2022-2024 Science Policy Fellowship. The fellowship is designed for early-career cancer research professionals who are interested in the development and implementation of cancer research and related policies in the federal government. The fellowship will include rotations at the AACR Office of Science Policy and Government Affairs in Washington, D.C., Congress, and the National Cancer Institute. The selected fellow must have a completed terminal degree (PhD, MD, DO, etc.) before the March 2022 start date. Find out more information and apply Applications are due by November 24, 2021.

Applications Open for 2022 AACR Early-career Hill Day

The AACR is now accepting applications for its 2022 Virtual Early-career Hill Day. This annual event provides an opportunity for AACR Associate members to learn about advocacy and policy and to take their message to members of Congress in support of federal funding for cancer research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The 2022 Hill Day will be held in a virtual format March 2-3. Participants will receive training on advocacy and the federal appropriations process prior to the Hill Day and will have an opportunity to hear from key policymakers/staff during a special program on March 3. Applications for the Early-career Hill Day will be accepted through November 30, 2021.

Please visit this page for more information and to apply. Potential applicants who are not already AACR Associate Members can find more information about membership. There are no annual dues for Associate Members. Any questions may be directed to [email protected].

Apply for the AACR Scientist↔Survivor Program® at the Annual Meeting 2022

The AACR is accepting applications for cancer survivors and patient advocates to enroll in the AACR Scientist↔Survivor Program® at the Annual Meeting 2022. This unique educational program provides an opportunity to discuss the latest findings in cancer research, regulatory science, and health science policy and network with key stakeholders in the cancer community. Learn more.

Watch Now! AACR Virtual Patient Advocate Forum: The Potential of Big Data, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence in Oncology

The recording is now available for on-demand viewing of the October 12 AACR Patient Advocate Forum: The Potential of Big Data. The forum explored how science is translating data into clinically relevant knowledge, discussed the role of patients in these efforts, and highlighted opportunities to use big data to advance cancer care.  

Watch video