Briefing Highlights Importance of Funding, CAR T Therapy

On March 27, AACI hosted a Congressional briefing titled "Breaking Down Barriers to a Cure." The briefing was held in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill and moderated by AACI President, Dr. Roy Jensen, director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center. Panelists highlighted the importance of robust and sustained funding levels for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and provided background on CAR T therapy to members of Congress and their staff members. 

AACI traditionally hosts briefings for new members of Congress immediately following an election cycle. With over 100 new legislators in Washington, the briefing provided an opportunity to educate these legislators on pertinent issues that impact that cancer community. 

Panelists included three-time non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor Dimas Padilla, who shared his story of receiving CAR T therapy as part of a clinical trial at Moffitt Cancer Center. When it seemed he was out of options—a husband and father of two young daughters, Padilla was told he may only have six months to live—his physician learned about an opening on the trial, under the treatment of Dr. Frederick L. Locke. In a compelling testimony to the promise of CAR T therapy, Padilla has made a complete turnaround. He said, “I would have saved five or six years of my life if I had the opportunity for CAR T from the first diagnosis.”

Ross Frommer, vice president for government and community affairs at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, touched on the importance of maintaining and strengthening federal funding for the NIH and NCI and how this funding stimulates research breakthroughs like CAR T. Dr. Kunle Odunsi, deputy director, chair of the department of gynecologic oncology, and executive director of the Center for Immunotherapy at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, outlined the basics of CAR T therapy, stating, “It is now clear the immune system is the most powerful weapon in the fight against cancer."  

While the promise of CAR T is being realized more each day, the barriers patients face can be daunting. S. Elizabeth “Sam” Sharf, clinical director of the Bone Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy Program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, addressed some of the administrative barriers surrounding CAR T, including mounting paperwork for cancer centers providing these therapies and single case agreements for some patients with commercial payors. 

With stable increases to NIH and NCI funding and improved regulations, the goal is that more patients will have access to treatment breakthroughs like CAR T and experience positive outcomes like Padilla's.