With Florida on its way to becoming the top state in the country in terms of cancer incidence and mortality, the director of the Moffitt Cancer Center went to the U.S. Senate Wednesday to plead for additional funding for biomedical research.
“From the window of my office, I see hundreds of cars lining up each day, filled with patients, family and friends who are coming to us for one reason: hope,” said Thomas Sellers, Moffitt’s director, at a meeting of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
Among others joining Sellers in the Dirksen Senate Office Building was actress Valerie Harper, best known for her role as “Rhoda” in the TV show of that name and on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” but more recently in the public eye with her own cancer struggle.
Their testimony aimed at reversing the decline in funding to entities such as the National Institutes of Health, which provides the bulk of federal research money to universities and laboratories.
After robust spending on biomedical research through the early 2000s, federal allocations to the NIH have flattened since, actually falling when inflation is factored in. The NIH budget is now at about $31 billion, up from $28.5 billion in 2005.
Previous budget strategies called for the NIH allocation to double roughly every 10 years, an unlikely prospect with a Congress averse to big spending.
Harper, who had lung cancer that has spread to her brain, said research on new treatment options is “so promising. How can these investments in life-saving research occur when all we hear from Washington is ‘reduce spending,’ ” she said. “Don’t think of it as spending. Think of it as investing.”
Sellers told senators that 13 new drugs to treat a variety of cancers, six new uses for previously approved cancer drugs, and three new imaging technologies have been approved in just the past 18 months. There are now 41 FDA-approved therapies that target specific molecules involved in cancer, he said, compared with 17 five years ago and just five 10 years ago.
“There has been progress against cancer,” Sellers said. “The opportunity to make a significant impact based on recent discoveries and amazing technological advances is at our fingertips.”
He said the need is great, with 1.7 million Americans expected to receive a cancer diagnosis this year and 580,000 expected to die from the disease.
The Senate special committee was chaired by Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.
The hearing came almost two weeks after U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, invited Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, ranking member of a key House appropriations committee, to downtown Tampa to tour the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. Castor and Pallone both vowed to work for increased federal spending on biomedical research.