Which Way for Childhood Cancer Funding?

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A blog post by Children’s Cause CEO George Dahlman, father of a childhood cancer survivor:

Last month childhood cancer advocates were encouraged – and somewhat surprised – when President Trump announced a childhood cancer research initiative at the State of the Union address, proposed at some $500 million over ten years – or $50 million a year.   Not long afterwards, officials from the Administration and the National Cancer Institute held a conference call to advise that they were planning a ‘big data’ project to identify and catalog biomarkers for every child diagnosed.  Similar projects are underway by other organizations, and the NCI is now planning a consortium or ‘federation’ to coordinate all these data projects.

Certainly, a project of this type would dovetail nicely with a provision of the STAR Act supporting biorepositories and complement the $30 million that STAR is slated to receive each year.

But the promise of that extra funding and any new initiatives was thrown into doubt this week with the release of the Administration’s budget proposal.  It recommended that the National Cancer Institute (NCI) be cut by 17% or $897 million; theoretically dwarfing any increase in childhood cancer funding. 

You may ask: Couldn’t childhood cancer programs still get an increase and be held harmless from any cuts? The answer: Not very likely.  

First, Congress has the final say here and normally appropriates NCI funding in a block, allowing the NCI Director to determine program priorities.  In the face of withering cuts to a range of other programs – many of which also benefit childhood cancer research – the Director would simply not have the resources to take on any new projects.

It’s imperative that our community stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other cancer groups to ensure that total NCI funding is increased. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Furthermore, when NCI tries to account for spending by disease, the math gets fuzzy.  Many of their grants are for basic research that could apply to multiple conditions.  Even accounting for increases in STAR funding and any new initiative, a budget cut of 17% across the board would more than eliminate any gains in one specific area.

The news in the Administration’s budget isn’t all bad.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which reviews and can accelerate treatments, would see an increase of some $260 million over the current level.

Most of this, however, is academic:   Even in the most harmonious environment, the President’s budget is merely a suggestion.  In this case it’s more like ‘dead-on-arrival.’   Over the coming months, Congress will decide what is available for each agency and program in a deliberate process, with input from stakeholders, including us. 

It will be critical as childhood cancer advocates, patients, families and supporters, that we appeal to our representatives — and you can do that right here with the action alert below.

It’s imperative that our community stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other cancer groups to ensure that total NCI funding is increased.  A rising tide lifts all boats.  At the same time, our community needs to stress the urgent need that the promise of the STAR Act be fulfilled and that the President’s promise of childhood cancer is met – so that no child is left behind.