Kate Johnson

June 01, 2014

CHICAGO — Cancer experts and their patients are moving into a new era in the United States. The warning was sounded here at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology® (ASCO), where the society is celebrating its 50th meeting.

"Critically important, clinically relevant research" is starting to dry up for lack of federal funds, said ASCO president Clifford Hudis, MD.

"While our country has had a long-standing commitment to funding cancer research, this commitment appears to be diminishing," said Dr. Hudis, who is professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and chief of the Breast Cancer Medicine Service at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York City.

"In this, our 50th year of continued progress against cancer, it is pretty clear that the national clinical trial system that Americans and others around the world have come to depend on to advance clinical research does not exist as we know it," he said during a press briefing.

"At ASCO, we are already seeing a real — and we think disturbing — bit of evidence about the impact of the reduction in this federal support. The number of abstracts that received federal funding among those submitted to us has dropped fairly sharply over the past 7 years — from 575 studies in 2008 to 169 this year," he reported. "This is the predictable end result of a steady decline in federal support for clinical cancer research in the United States."

The press briefing showcased results from 4 of the top federally funded studies submitted to ASCO this year, which were conducted and funded in an era and by a government that was more committed to cancer research, he said.

"These studies are further testimony to the strides we are making to improve cancer care, and the results answer critical questions that people with cancer and their doctors face every single day. All 4 studies received funding from the National Institute of Health; this is a critically important point that may not be fully appreciated by everybody out there in broader society."

But new research proposals are unlikely to get the same share of federal dollars.

"As of 2014, the National Cancer Institute's cooperative system has evolved. It is now a streamlined, ostensibly more efficient, system. That's good, but it also seems to be much, much smaller," he noted.

The true value of federally funded studies is that they often venture into territory where industry is reluctant to tread, such as "competitive-effectiveness research, new indications for older generic drugs, and improvements in quality of life," Dr. Hudis explained. These are often studies that industry is less interested in performing."

"The question that we are facing now is who is going to plan, launch, and complete these kinds of trials into the future. The answer, honestly, remains to be seen,"he said.

2014 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO): Presented June 1, 2014.

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