Less and less of the research presented at a prominent cancer conference is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a development that some of the country’s top scientists see as a worrisome trend, according to Kaiser Health News (KHN).
The number of studies fully funded by the National Institutes of Health at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)—the world’s largest gathering of cancer researchers—has fallen 75% during the past decade, from 575 papers in 2008 to 144 this year.
American researchers typically dominate the meeting’s press conferences, which are designed to feature the most important and newsworthy research. This year, 14 studies were led by international scientists compared with 12 led by U.S.-based research teams. That’s a big shift from just five years ago, when 15 studies in the press program were led by Americans compared with nine by international researchers.
President Donald Trump has proposed cutting the NIH budget for 2018 from $31.8 billion to $26 billion, a decline that many worry would jeopardize the fight against cancer and other diseases, according to KHN. Those cuts include $1 billion less for the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
On its website, the NCI notes that its purchasing power has declined by 25% since 2003 because its budget—while growing—hasn’t kept up with inflation. Congress gave the NCI nearly $5.4 billion in fiscal year 2017––an increase of $174.6 million over last year. The NCI also received $300 million for the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot through the 21st Century Cures Act in December 2016.
Public funding is critical because it allows researchers to answer questions that don’t interest drug companies, said Dr. Richard Schilsky, senior vice president and chief medical officer at ASCO.
While drug companies fund studies that help them get their medications approved, they tend not to pay for studies that focus on cancer prevention, screening, or quality of life, Schilsky said. The NIH also funds head-to-head comparisons of cancer drugs, which allow patients and doctors to select the most-effective treatments.
“Do we want the U.S. to remain at the center of biomedical innovation, or do we want to cede that to China or other countries?” asked Dr. Stephan Grupp, director of the Cancer Immunotherapy Frontier Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “If you don’t push to stay in front, you don’t stay in front.”
Grupp noted that charities and the drug industry are often reluctant to cover the indirect costs of research, such as laboratories. Without steady, predictable support from government grants, Grupp said, he wouldn’t “have a building to do my research in or a way to keep the lights on.”
Source: Kaiser Health News; June 2, 2017.