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Cancer Policy Monitor: October 10, 2023

AACR Releases 2023 Cancer Progress Report

-Benjamin Krinsky, PhD

On September 13, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) released the 13th edition of the Cancer Progress Report. The report provides a comprehensive summary of recent advances in the fight against cancer, highlights challenges that remain in cancer prevention, detection, and treatment, and concludes with a call to action for policymakers to support the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal programs that contribute to the fight against cancer.

As detailed in the report, the overall cancer death rate in the U.S. has fallen by 33 percent between 1991 and 2020. This progress is thanks to a combination of advances in public health and prevention measures, screening practices and technologies, and new therapeutics. But challenges remain: an estimated 2 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2023, and the burden of cancer falls disproportionately on certain populations, including racial and ethnic minorities and other medically underserved groups. Moreover, even as more patients are thankfully living fuller and longer lives after a cancer diagnosis, more work is needed to understand and address the challenges faced by cancer survivors, as well as families, friends, and others in their support networks.

To continue the progress against cancer, the AACR Cancer Progress Report calls on Congress to robustly support crucial federal research and health programs. The report urges Congress to provide significant appropriations increases to the base budgets of the NIH and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to allocate additional funds to support anticancer programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and to support the broad goals of the Cancer Moonshot. See the full AACR Cancer Progress Report Call to Action.

The report release event was held at the National Press Club. The event featured remarks by AACR CEO Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc) and AACR President Philip Greenberg, MD, FAACR. The public release was also attended by several cancer survivors featured in the report. Courtney Addison spoke about her son Cayden’s struggles with leukemia, and how advances in CAR-T cell therapy sent his leukemia into remission. Lesa Kirkman described her difficult journey following her bladder cancer diagnosis, and the remarkable efficacy of a novel gene therapy in treating her disease. See more information about the survivors featured in the report.

2023 Rally for Medical Research Hill Day Draws Hundreds of Advocates

-Blake William Rostine

Medical research advocates from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., September 13-14 for the 11th annual Rally for Medical Research. The AACR, the founding organizer and a lead sponsor of the rally, joined over 350 partner organizations to advocate for robust, sustained, and predictable funding increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Patient advocates, caregivers, researchers, and health professionals gathered for a reception on Capitol Hill, September 13, featuring remarks from NIH Acting Principal Deputy Director Tara A. Schwetz, PhD; chair of the Coalition for Life Sciences, and President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Keith Yamamoto, PhD; President-elect of the American Heart Association Keith Churchwell, MD; and Alzheimer’s Advocate Volunteer Sarah Harris. The Honorable Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) provided remarks on the importance of biomedical research, particularly in this difficult appropriations climate.

On September 14, over 200 advocates representing more than 30 states took part in 190 meetings with their members of Congress and staff. Participants advocated for Congress to continue building on seven straight years of robust funding increases for the NIH, while requesting that members allocate the highest possible increase to the NIH budget in FY 2024. Advocates also urged lawmakers and their staff to complete work on FY 2024 appropriations bills as quickly as possible to avoid the delays and disruptions caused by continuing resolutions and a potential government shutdown.

Advocates and partner organizations also participated in a National Day of Action, September 14, amplifying the rally message via social media and email campaigns. The Rally for Medical Research initiative was launched in April 2013 to bring together the entire medical research community to ask Congress to make the NIH a national priority. Through the annual Hill Day, the Rally for Medical Research continues to raise awareness about the critical need for an increased investment in the NIH to improve health, spur progress, inspire hope, and save more lives. See the list of the Rally partner organizations.

Biden Administration Announces $240 Million Investment to Advance Cancer Moonshot

-Matt Gontarchick

On September 13, the Biden administration announced a $240 million investment to improve cancer prevention and detection efforts as part of a larger effort to advance the Cancer Moonshot. Initially launched in 2016, the Cancer Moonshot was reignited in 2022 with the goal of halving the cancer mortality rate by 2047 and improving the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer.

According to the announcement, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) will award $240 million to researchers to develop innovative ways of detecting cancers early, create new methods to visualize cancer cells during surgery, and design tools capable of delivering treatments directly to cancer cells. Additionally, ARPA-H will be tasked with collaborating with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other agencies to develop a Biomedical Data Fabric Toolbox for Cancer. This program aims to transform data accessibility across the medical research landscape by developing new technologies to search across thousands of cancer datasets to uncover new opportunities for cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. 

The administration announced an additional 50 programs intended to bolster the Cancer Moonshot, including several targeted at smoking cessation. For example, one pilot program will direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to determine how to engage veterans more effectively on tobacco use. Furthermore, a text messaging program focused on American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Black Americans intends to help adolescents and adults quit smoking.

The AACR remains committed to working with the Biden administration to help the Cancer Moonshot meet its objectives and end cancer as we know it. 

NCI Releases Professional Judgment Budget for FY 2025

-Matt Gontarchick

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is seeking at least $11.466 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 appropriations to support research opportunities, according to the agency’s most recent Professional Judgment Budget Proposal. The new proposal represents a $1.478 billion increase from the $9.988 billion Professional Judgment Budget Proposal for FY 2024.

Enacted in 1974, the National Cancer Act provides the NCI director with the authority to submit a Professional Judgment Budget every year to the president and Congress. The proposal budget addresses the agency’s research priorities and speaks to potential areas of growth in cancer research. 

According to the proposal, recent budget increases for NCI have not kept up with a surge in R01 grant applications over the last decade. This, combined with the growth in biomedical research costs and the need to provide research contracts with multiyear funding commitments, justifies a robust funding increase for NCI in FY 2025.

The FY 2025 Professional Judgment Budget Proposal additionally highlights five areas of opportunity where further investment could lead to additional progress in cancer research: improving patients’ lives through symptom science research, revolutionizing cancer clinical trials, clarifying the impact of the environment on cancer risk, mobilizing the power of data, and developing a deeper understanding of cancer metastasis. 

According to NCI Director Monica Bertagnolli, MD, the Professional Judgment Budget Proposal will empower researchers to take advantage of scientific opportunities, reduce the impact of years of inflation on NCI’s purchasing power, and ensure that all patients with cancer can gain from NCI’s successes. Bertagnolli also pointed to the importance of NCI training programs, which contribute to the next generation of researchers and increase the potential for future breakthroughs. 

AACR Forms Cancer Centers Alliance

-Benjamin Krinsky, PhD

On September 13, following the release of the 2023 AACR Cancer Progress Report, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) announced the launch of the AACR Cancer Centers Alliance. This new initiative will bring together cancer research centers from across the nation to leverage their resources and expand their impact in advancing science and improving patient care for diverse populations across the country.

As detailed in the Cancer Progress Report, recent advances in cancer research have led to remarkable new methods of cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. These include revolutionary breakthroughs in immunotherapeutics, which are novel ways of harnessing a patient’s immune system to target and destroy cancer cells. Advances in immunotherapy and other areas hold tremendous potential for further transformative breakthroughs in the fight against cancer. However, despite this progress and excitement about future horizons in cancer research, the burden of cancer still falls disproportionately on particular groups, including racial and ethnic minorities and other medically underserved populations.

The AACR Cancer Centers Alliance seeks to address these and other challenges in cancer research and care, and to seize new scientific opportunities. Established as part of the National Cancer Act of 1971, National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Centers drive progress against cancer through scientific research, education and training, patient care, and community health and outreach activities. The new alliance will build on these activities and allow the nation’s cancer centers to broaden their impact through increased collaboration, resource sharing, development of national demonstration projects, and advancing innovation. The alliance will initially focus its efforts on four areas, namely: pursuing innovative directions in basic and translational research; broadening the reach of clinical research and clinical trials; strengthening and increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in scientific education and training; and allowing the centers to speak with a unified voice on issues related to cancer research, clinical trials, patient care, health policy and equity, and other issues.

Learn more about the new AACR Cancer Centers Alliance.

AACR Signs Letter of Support for The Helping Tobacco Users Quit Act

-Calais Prince, PhD

Although tobacco use has decreased across all populations for several decades, cigarette smoking remains the leading preventable cause of disease and death. In the United States, over 480,000 deaths have been caused by both active and secondhand smoking. Medicaid enrollees smoke at more than twice the rate of adults with private health insurance, which increases their risk of cancer, heart disease, COPD, diabetes and other tobacco-caused diseases. Most tobacco users express a desire to reduce their use or stop entirely, however, overcoming nicotine addiction is incredibly difficult. As described in the AACR public comments on the HHS request for information to develop the Draft HHS Framework to Support and Accelerate Smoking Cessation, it is imperative to improve coverage for tobacco cessation treatment across public and private insurance.

The Helping Tobacco Users Quit Act (H.R.4775), introduced by Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del) and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn), would ensure that all individuals enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) have access to the full array of evidence-based tobacco cessation treatments. The bill would extend tobacco cessation treatments — including individual, group, and phone-based cessation counseling – to all Medicaid and CHIP enrollees. This legislation will help to reduce persistent cessation disparities thus saving lives and improving health outcomes among Medicaid and CHIP enrollees.

In September, AACR signed a letter in support of the Helping Tobacco Users Quit Act. AACR joined hundreds of organizations that also support extending tobacco cessation treatments for Medicaid and CHIP enrollees.

Regardless of age, one of the most important steps that can be taken by a person that uses tobacco products is to quit smoking. AACR will continue to advocate for providing FDA approved cessation therapies that will end tobacco-related diseases and mortality.