Panelists Highlight Impact of Budget Cuts at AACI Briefing on Capitol Hill

AACI hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill on March 28 for Congressional staff to enhance their understanding of academic cancer centers. The briefing, titled “Implementing the Promise of 21st Century Cures: The Role of Academic Cancer Centers” was moderated by AACI President, Stanton L. Gerson, MD, Director, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University, Seidman Cancer Center at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

Panelists included Stan Collender, a Merkel cell carcinoma patient who was treated at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s patient-arm, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance; Laurie H. Glimcher, MD, President and CEO of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Roy A. Jensen, MD, Director, The University of Kansas Cancer Center and AACI President-Elect; and Jacqueline Smith, a ten-year Melanoma survivor, treated at Moffitt Cancer Center.

Dr. Gerson initiated the briefing by highlighting AACI’s 96 cancer centers and their role in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment, palliative care, and survivorship.

Panelist Jackie Smith credited Moffitt Cancer Center with allowing her to reach her ten-year “cancerversary.” She was just 21-years-old when diagnosed with cancer and she was frightened, knowing that melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. She said Moffitt gave her hope and made her, unexpectedly, feel at home.

The other panelists described their functions in the cancer community and highlighted the devastating impact President Trump’s proposed budget cuts would have on academic cancer centers and their ability to care for patients like Jackie and Stan. Dr. Glimcher highlighted the president’s Fiscal Year 2018 “skinny budget” proposal which recommends cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI). A reduction of this scope would be a disaster she said, and Dr. Jensen agreed, saying that funding from both the 21st Century Cures Act and a Continuing Resolution through Fiscal Year 2017 are not enough to keep academic cancer centers afloat.

Referring to a map of AACI cancer centers, Dr. Gerson noted that many patients have to travel a long way to be seen at an academic cancer center. Dr. Jensen concurred, saying that The University of Kansas Cancer Center treats patients from Missouri and Oklahoma as well as Kansas. Dr. Jensen credited Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), as well as Representative Kevin Yoder (R-KS), for their strong support of the cancer center and NIH funding.

Dr. Gerson also mentioned another budget proposal released by the administration to House appropriators on March 24, for Fiscal Year 2017. The proposal includes an $18 billion supplemental appropriations request for the current fiscal year for defense and border security. To cover this cost, the administration proposes cutting non-defense spending, including $1.2 billion from the NIH. That reduction would include eliminating $50 million in new Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program funding for FY 2017. Appropriators have rejected this proposal, saying it is comes too late in the process for Fiscal Year 2017, but the panelists maintained such a proposal would be detrimental to science.

Stan Collender mentioned that while he is a patient who participated in a clinical trial and was about to complete his thirteenth and final round of treatment, he is also a budget expert by day. He did not mince words when saying any cuts would be “economically stupid”.

Kevin Cullen, MD, Director and Professor at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, was present for the briefing and asked the panelists to comment on the impact of budget cuts to the next generation of scientists. Drs. Gerson, Jensen and Glimcher agreed that any cut to these agencies would sideline promising research projects that are still under review for funding and drive young investigators from the field of science, or out of the U.S. to conduct their work.

Finally, Dr. Gerson noted that last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $34.1 billion in funding for the NIH in Fiscal Year 2017. He asked that Congress ensure that level for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017 and that it provide a $2 billion increase for the NIH in Fiscal Year 2018. He also encouraged Congressional staff to visit academic cancer centers in their district and state.