The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee March 29 convened a full committee hearing titled, “Federally Funded Cancer Research: Coordination and Innovation.” Witnesses included: Mary Beckerle, PhD, chief executive officer and director, Huntsman Cancer Institute at University of Utah Medical School; Elizabeth Jaffee, MD, deputy director, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University; Tyler Jacks, PhD, director, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Tammi Carr, founder, ChadTough Foundation.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) opened the hearing by sharing a personal story, stating that he lost both of his parents to cancer. Although he said he supports funding for the military, he asked, “Why is fighting cancer not a much higher priority?”
Chairman Chaffetz expressed his concern over the proposal in the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget blueprint, released March 16, to cut funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $5.8 billion (18 percent) to $25.9 billion, the lowest level for the agency since FY 2002 [see Washington Highlights,March 17]. He added, “I thought his budget proposal for this category was pathetic and inadequate. We should be spending billions of dollars to solve this.”
Mrs. Carr shared the story of her son Chad, who died at age 5 in 2015 from a rare form of pediatric cancer. She also reacted to the proposed cuts NIH, saying, “When I hear about those potential cuts to the NIH, it just hits me right in the gut. There have been such great strides made around pediatric cancers, such as leukemia, because bright minds were asked to focus on treatments and they were given the resources necessary to do so.”
In his opening statement, Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) described “bipartisan outrage over the proposal to slash NIH funding,” a point that was echoed throughout the hearing by both Republican and Democratic members stating their support for research.
“I think most of the members on this committee believe that what you guys are doing is very, very important,” Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), National Security Subcommittee Chair, said to the witnesses. “There’s a lot of different things we police waste on this committee–that’s kind of our job–there’s a lot in the government that we can point fingers at, but I think that this is one area where, clearly, the money that we’re putting in has the potential to really do a huge amount of good for people’s lives and, as we said that the beginning, for our nation’s fiscal solvency going forward.”
Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) also voiced his support, “[I]’m a conservative Republican. I voted to cut about everything up here because, you know, we’ve got a $20 trillion debt…But I can tell you, I very much favor medical research, and I appreciate the work that you all are doing.”
Shortly after the White House released the blueprint, AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, responded with a March 16 statement saying, “Medical research takes years to translate from the bench to the bedside and cannot be turned on and off like a faucet. The proposed cuts would set back progress toward critical advancements that could take decades to regain, prevent new ideas from being explored, and have a chilling effect on those who would potentially enter the biomedical research workforce.”
Additionally, the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, a coalition of more than 200 medical research stakeholder organizations convened by AAMC, criticized the proposal, stating that a reduction in funding “would drastically slow progress on research to find treatments and cures for patients nationwide.”