Albert H. Owens, Jr, MD, President of the National Coalition for Cancer Research (NCCR), urged the National Cancer Policy Board to focus on the policies and practices affecting cancer research because, without doubt, research is the gateway to progress against cancer.
Dr. Owens statement was part of the Public Forum on National Cancer Policy sponsored in late March by the National Cancer Policy Board in Washington, DC, at the National Academy of Sciences Building. The Board was established late last year to examine the needs of a truly national cancer effort. Dr. Owens, who is the founding director of the Oncology Center at Johns Hopkins University, currently serves as President of the NCCR. The Coalition is comprised of 18 not-for-profit organizations that are devoted to the pursuit of cancer research.
Member Organizations of the National Coalition for Cancer Research
In his statement, Dr. Owens noted that during recent years, molecular geneticists have been unraveling the mysteries of carcinogenesis and providing new hope for better means of controlling the disorder. However, he urged, We must remember that despite the declining death rates of the past few years, cancer will remain a major cause of morbidity and mortality as our population continues to increase and to age. He also noted that the direct costs of health care services to cancer patients is currently estimated at $100 billion annually and is increasing each year.
The NCCR firmly maintains that the solution to the complex problems surrounding cancerthe reduction in morbidity, mortality, and the high costs of medical carewill come in a stepwise manner from the generation of new knowledge through research and that the prospects for meaningful progress are good.
How Much Money Should Be Earmarked for Basic Research?
A central public policy question to be addressed is, what portion of our annual $1 trillion in health-care expenditures should be devoted to basic cancer research? Dr. Owens observed that every successful enterprise devotes some portion of its revenue to research in order to make new and improved products available and to maintain a competitive edge in sales and services. For example, he stated, it is reported that the large pharmaceutical companies invest 21.2% of their annual US revenues on research.
The position of the Coalition is that current federal appropriations for research are too low, but attempts by the current congressional leadership to double the National Institutes of Health (and National Cancer Institute) appropriation are encouraging. In order to be most effective, funding must be provided in a manner that enhances creativityencourages the risk taking inherent in innovation, Dr. Owens commented. And, he added, Research funding must be sustained, also, in order to prevent the detrimental interruptions to investigators and research institutions that have long lasting effects.
Other Key Points
Other key issues and themes stressed by Dr. Owens in his statement include the following:
- Maintaining the integrity of a group of top-notch academic health centers and strengthening a related group of research universities is of vital importance.
- Patient-centered research merits careful attention because it is the link between laboratory discoveries and the advances in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment that improve medical practice and the quality of life of patients and their families.
- ;Policies that facilitate the commercialization process by which discoveries are brought to the marketplace will benefit society at large.
- It is vital to reverse the current trend of the brightest and best minds in our country being discouraged from pursuing careers in the biomedical sciences. We must also acknowledge that progress depends, to no small extent, on insuring the continued and sustained renewal of the intellectual resources at the heart of the creative processthe dedicated, highly educated, creative scientists that determine the success of these endeavors.
- Our knowledge of cancer genetics is expanding rapidly and promises great benefits to people at risk of developing cancer. The full realization of this potential will involve patients in research protocols and apparently healthy family members as well. The development of rational and socially responsible policy guidelines in critical areas will facilitate this important future research.
The NCCR was founded in 1986 to support the purposes of the National Cancer Act, landmark legislation that established a network of facilities and researchers to address the growing epidemic of cancer. A nonprofit organization comprised of 18 national organizations dedicated to the eradication of cancer, the NCCR has as its mission the support of public education efforts to communicate the importance of cancer research to progress against cancer, and the articulation to the public and policy-makers that only through adequate funding for a balanced National Cancer Program will it be possible to proclaim, Research cures cancer.