Funding Cancer Research and Biomedical Science Drives Progress

Cancer Progress Report 2013: Contents

In this section you will learn:

  • Why Congress must make funding cancer research and biomedical science a national priority; and

  • The future of the biomedical research enterprise is threatened by sequestration and a declining research budget.

As a direct result of past federal investments in the NIH (see sidebar on The NIH), incredible progress has been, and continues to be, made against cancer. These advances are the result of dedicated efforts across all sectors of the biomedical research enterprise to continue to make research count for patients. As a testament to this progress, the FDA approved 11 new drugs for treating cancers, three new uses for previously approved anticancer drugs, and three new imaging technologies between Sept. 1, 2012, and July 31, 2013. ​

However, continued progress is under threat, and a new level of commitment by Congress to increase funding for the NIH will be required if we are to accelerate the pace of progress against cancer and meet the challenges described earlier in this report.​

Funding Cancer Research and Biomedical Science Saves Lives and Boosts the Nation’s Economy

The federal government, through the NIH, is the primary investor in basic research (see sidebar on The Virtuous Cycle of Biomedical Research). The knowledge gained through this research is essential to the entire biomedical science enterprise and a key driver of late-stage research, which is predominantly funded by the private sector. 

Within the NIH, the NCI is the main funder of cancer research. NIH- and NCI-funded research has driven significant advances in our understanding of the biology of cancer and our ability to prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat it. These advances have significantly reduced the burden of cancer and transformed the lives of a growing number of cancer patients, including the 13.7 million cancer survivors estimated to be living in the United States in 2013. This remarkable progress would not have been possible without the long-standing, bipartisan commitment of our nation’s policymakers to invest in biomedical research through the NIH. 

In addition to improving the health of the nation, investment in the NIH boosts our nation’s economy. NIH funding supports nearly half a million jobs nationwide (180). In fact, the funding that local areas receive has a positive ripple effect throughout those communities. NIH funding generated more than $62 billion in economic activity in the United States in 2011 (181). As our nation continues to recover from a long recession and a period of high unemployment, sustaining a proven economic generator is smart fiscal policy.

Sequestration and a Declining Research Budget Threaten the Future of our Nation’s Health

In the late 1990s, following a period of stagnant budgets for medical research, Congress and the administration made a bipartisan, forward-thinking decision to double the NIH budget over a five-year period. Unfortunately, in the 10 years since the doubling ended in 2003, the NIH budget has been steadily shrinking because the amount of funding provided to the agency each year has been less than what is needed to keep pace with biomedical inflation (see Figure 19). This has effectively decreased the NIH’s ability to fund lifesaving research.

In addition to this lost purchasing power, on March 1, 2013, outright budget cuts known as sequestration further reduced the NIH budget. Sequestration dealt a 5.1 percent cut to the agency, slashing its budget by $1.6 billion. At the reduced fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding level of $29 billion, the NIH is now funding the lowest number of research projects since FY 2001 (see sidebar on Life Under Sequestration​).

The impact of sequestration on the NCI was a commensurate cut of $293 million. These cuts have ramifications across the research spectrum — reducing the number of promising grant proposals that can be funded, potentially leaving the next cancer therapy or cure on the cutting room floor. Furthermore, these cuts impact existing cancer research projects and cancer centers, where critical “bench-to-bedside” research and care take place.

These cuts also reduce the number of patients who can enroll in NCI-funded clinical trials. Such trials are required for promising new treatments to move forward to the next phase of development and are often the only hope for patients with advanced cancers who have exhausted all approved treatment options. 

Unless Congress takes action to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction and change the present fiscal course, the multiyear, reduced federal spending caps mandated by sequestration will result in a $19 billion reduction to the NIH budget by 2021. This places the entire biomedical research enterprise at a crisis point, and the present trajectory is simply unacceptable. 

Especially concerning is that these cuts to the NIH are occurring at a time when the potential for accelerating the translation of discoveries in cancer research into progress against cancer has never been more promising. As a result of declining budgets, the pace of discovery will slow and breakthroughs that could have led to new therapies will be delayed. 

Not only is the overall health of our nation at risk, but so too is our position as the global leader in biomedical research and innovation. Unfortunately, the United States is reducing its investments in biomedical research at a time when nations such as the United Kingdom, Singapore, and China are significantly increasing theirs. For example, China has pledged to invest more than $300 billion in biomedical research over the next five years (182). If current trends continue, in only a few years, Chinese investment in life sciences research will be double that of the United States. To continue to make progress against cancer and maintain our global leadership in biomedical research, the United States must recruit, nurture, and retain a highly skilled and diverse cancer research workforce. The decline in NIH funding for biomedical research jeopardizes our ability to accomplish this. 

At a time of constrained budgets, scarce federal dollars must be invested wisely. Funding cancer research and biomedical science through the NIH and NCI is a wise choice that will improve America’s health and prosperity. Supporting these agencies must remain a national priority.

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Cancer Progress Report 2013 Contents

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