The Coming Cliff for Cancer

With the failure of the Congressional Joint Select Committee to reach any type of an agreement on budget reduction measures, there will be automatic cuts that take place for many programs and agencies, most notably NIH and the FDA.
11/09/2012 11:24 am ET Updated Jan 09, 2013

As the dust from the election settles, we as a country find ourselves in much the same place we were before November 6, 2012 -- "meet the new boss, it's the same as the old boss." Congress looks marginally different, yet eerily similar. Hope, change, cooperation? It seems that these concepts have also been kicked down the road for yet another election year. And thus, we step ever closer to the precipice. The proverbial cliff is looming over the horizon all because our elected officials have problems playing nicely together in the sandbox. Lessons taught so long ago seemingly do not apply to men and women who would rather put their success ahead of what is good or right for the country both economically and socially.

We face a significant budgetary "showdown" in the coming months known as the "sequester." With the failure of the Congressional Joint Select Committee to reach any type of an agreement on budget reduction measures, there will be automatic cuts that take place for many programs and agencies, most notably for purposes of this piece, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both potential cuts would have a direct and disastrous impact on cancer research, drug development and approval.

For instance, NIH faces a potential cut of up to $2.5 billion dollars, or an 8.2 percent reduction. The National Cancer Institute is funded through the budget of NIH and thus if this cut takes effect, NCI will lose funding that will directly impact research and potentially promising clinical trials. The estimate is that funding for up to one quarter of all new biomedical grants could be cut. Similarly, there is the potential that the FDA could lose hundreds of millions of dollars and foreclose the ability to develop new cancer drugs. What this all means is that current projects would be immediately defunded and those programs slated for future development will either be set back or killed off altogether. Labs could lose significant funding and close. This slide will precipitously set our federal cancer research back by many years.

I am not a huge fan of the NCI when it comes to childhood cancer research as you can read from my last piece, "Open Letter to Harold Varmus." Frankly, looking at the budget for NCI, it is patently evident that childhood cancer is not high on the priority list for the organization. With that stated, it would be a tragedy to set the clock back on the research that is being conducted by NIH and NCI, slow the FDA down in terms of drug approval, and limit the number of clinical trials that are created and made available to children and adults. Likewise, I have often been critical of the vast regulations of the FDA as they frequently have a negative impact upon the ability of our children to gain access to potentially new life saving drugs. Again, with that being said, the prospect of having the budget cuts take effect would further hamper the ability for consideration of new drugs.

Which brings me back to my main point. Our elected officials must begin to act like civil human beings and solve this nation's problems regardless of ideology and party affiliation. It is wholly unacceptable to draw arbitrary lines in the sand and not move when the obvious result of such a maneuver is a negative impact upon the most vulnerable of our citizens, children with cancer. The climate of vitriol that marks the manner in which political discourse takes place is negatively impacting upon every person in this country. It will have a negative impact upon the federally driven "war on cancer" and decimate the scientific community working so hard to cure the number one disease killer of our children.

What can we do? Use your voice is the answer. Push your representatives, write your senators, write to the president. They all need to know that our children will not become pawns in this deadly game of chicken. Call the congressional offices and clog their lines. Schedule meetings. Contact them and let them know that their jobs are dependent upon your vote in the future. It is time that our politicians begin to act like the honorable public servants that they are supposed to be. This is an issue that all cancer advocates can rally around and utilize our massive voice to have an impact. Do not allow us all to walk over that cliff. Do not allow our elected officials to drag us there.