On May 17, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing to discuss the budget request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019. NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Ned Sharpless, MD, both gave testimony at the hearing, where Dr. Sharpless underscored the need for adequate funding to strengthen the cancer research infrastructure.
Dr. Sharpless discussed the need for further investment to train the oncology workforce, recommit to basic science, improve clinical trial structure and processes, and enhance data sharing and interoperability of electronic health records.
The role of the NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) in increasing patient access to clinical trials was also brought up as part of the discussion. In response to a question posed by Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) regarding how cancer patients in Mississippi could access cancer trials without an NCI designated cancer center, Dr. Sharpless noted that NCI plans to expand the scope of NCORP, which combined with large cancer centers, makes cancer clinical trials more available across the country.
The hearing took place on the same day ASCO released its abstracts for the 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting, which Dr. Sharpless noted during the hearing, saying, “It’s a very exciting time in cancer research… In fact, today is the release of the ASCO abstracts. It’s sort of like Christmas in our field.”
Throughout the hearing, Senators expressed the need to continue momentum and build on the investment Congress made in FY 2018, when they provided the biggest increase to NIH in 15 years. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) noted the need to continue robust funding for the NIH and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) personally committed to continue increasing funding for NIH for years to come. “These funding increases reflect a sustained commitment to invest in medical research with the goal of achieving breakthroughs that benefit all of us,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
ASCO has continued to advocate for a strong, sustained investment in biomedical research to make up for decades of stagnant funding for the NIH. The society has called on Congress to provide $39.3 billion to NIH and $6.375 billion to NCI for FY 2019, and recently submitted testimony to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee outlining the impact of increased federal funding for cancer research.
Stay tuned to ASCO in Action for updates on the appropriations process and federal funding for cancer research.