Cures, Careers at Risk Without Federally Funded Research, Oncologists Warn

Dec 20, 2017

During its recent Advocacy Summit on Capitol Hill, ASCO interviewed three leading cancer researchers and cancer care providers about the importance of federal funding for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the potential impact of a decline in federal funding.

How does federally funded research improve outcomes for patients?

“I’m a pediatric oncologist, and over the past few decades we’ve had the real privilege of seeing cure rates for some cancer types that have gone from 20% to over 80% for patients under 21 years of age at diagnosis. I run our long-term survivorship program, and I saw a 17-year-old boy who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 5. Unfortunately, he suffered multiple relapses despite bone marrow transplants, and about 3 years ago we threw a ‘Hail Mary’ and told him he needed to go to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and get on this clinical trial for CAR-T cells to see if we could get that disease at bay. He went to Philadelphia and received this new therapy that is entirely the result of investment in the NCI and now he is disease-free 3 years later. That child, when I was in training, wouldn’t have survived, but now he just started college, so it’s thrilling to see that.

“We entirely depend on the NCI to develop cures for pediatric cancer. It’s a smaller population that is not going to produce a lot of revenue for pharmaceutical companies. All of the advances we’ve seen in pediatric oncology have come from NCI research.”

Tara O. Henderson, MD, MPH, Chair, ASCO Survivorship Committee

Dr. Henderson works at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, where she specializes in the diagnosis and medical treatment of patients with pediatric cancers.


What is the risk of declining federal funding for cancer research?

“The obvious risk is that it would negatively affect patients with cancer. We are at a critical time for drug discovery, and without federally funded research, we are going to see fewer cures and more patients dying. I also think it would negatively affect cancer researchers and people who are trying to make important discoveries for our patients. They’re losing out on major opportunities to be able to continue their careers. I think it would affect patients the most, but it would also affect the cancer community in that we’d lose even more of our best researchers.”

Beverly Moy, MD, MPH, ASCO Advocate

Dr. Moy is a medical oncologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital, specializing in breast cancer, and is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.


Why is it important for oncologists to advocate for federal funding of cancer research?

“We have to educate our lawmakers about what we see in our practices daily, so they fully understand the implications of legislation on NCI’s budget. I see myself as an advocate for my patients, and I never want to wonder if my patient is missing out on a treatment breakthrough from the NCI because it wasn’t funded.”

Yousuf Zafar, MD, MHS, ASCO Advocate

Dr. Zafar is a health services researcher at Duke Cancer Institute focused on improving care delivery for patients with advanced cancer and improving the design and delivery of palliative care in cancer clinical trials. 

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