This blog was written by AICR’s Research and Policy Intern.
This month, I had the opportunity to represent AICR during the One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) virtual lobby day to ask Congress to support three asks related to sustained funding for cancer research and prevention. OVAC is a coalition of the nation’s leading cancer organizations advocating for increased federal investment in cancer research, and AICR has been a member since 2019. AICR has invested more than $100 million into its own cancer research program, but the federal government has the capacity to support research on a much larger scale to further advances in cancer prevention and survivorship through dedicated funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Increasing federal funding for NIH and NCI is one of AICR’s policy priorities.
It was an honor to take part in OVAC’s virtual lobby day, as 2021 is the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act. Prior to the event, the 28 participants were divided into small groups and OVAC held a policy preparatory meeting to give us an opportunity to meet our fellow group members and determine who would be speaking on each ask. My small group included advocates representing other OVAC member organizations, such as the American Society for Radiation Oncology, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Throughout the day, we met with legislative staff for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY-26) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
The first ask was for $10 billion in emergency funding for NIH to jumpstart COVID-19 impacted research. This is especially important right now, as many cancer clinical trials were halted or moved online as a result of the pandemic and restarting this research has been costly. As we have fought COVID-19 for the past year, cancer diagnoses have not stopped and it is imperative that the halted research efforts are fully restored.
The second ask was for at least $46.111 billion (a $3.177 billion increase) for NIH in fiscal year 2022, including $7.609 billion for cancer research at NCI. The increase for NIH represents a meaningful 5 percent increase in funding, plus an adjustment for biomedical inflation. The recommended funding level for NCI is based on their professional judgement budget. AICR spoke on this ask, noting the following:
- Between 30-50 percent of all cancer cases are preventable. Prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer. Investments in cancer research can improve prevention.
- Even before the pandemic, NCI was unable to fund hundreds of high-quality research applications each year. We are at risk of losing a valuable generation of researchers if Congress does not increase funding. Between FY13 & FY18, the number of R01 grant applications to NCI increased by 45.9%.
- It is important to invest in early-career investigators so they continue in the field of cancer research. In 2018, NCI Director Norman Sharpless announced that the NCI would increase the total number of grants given to early-stage investigators by 25 percent – an increase that was only possible due to continued increases in NIH appropriations over the past three years.
The third ask was for $559 million for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) cancer programs in the fiscal year 2022 funding bill. The $559 million includes funding for the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, Colorectal Cancer Control Program, National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program and more. These programs provide key resources to states and communities to prevent cancer and detect it early by ensuring that at-risk, low-income communities have access to vital cancer screenings and prevention programs.
Investment in cancer research has historically been a bipartisan issue and all three offices were receptive and supportive of our asks. We also heard support for increased funding for CDC, as the importance of the agency has been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the fiscal year 2022 federal appropriations process gets underway, AICR and other advocates will continue to ensure that increased funding for cancer research and prevention remains a priority for Congress.
AICR relies on researchers, health professionals, patients and caregivers who are willing to share their story and contact members of Congress about the importance of federal investment in cancer research. If you would like to share your story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up here to stay up-to-date on AICR’s policy and advocacy efforts.