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 cost 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 cancer--the reduction in morbidity, mortality, and the high
costs of medical care--will 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 creativity -- encourages 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:
- Maintaining the integrity of a group of top-notch academic health centers
and strengthening a related group of research universities is of vital
- 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 away from 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 process--the 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."