While there is much hope in the science of cancer research, critical policy reforms in Washington must be implemented to turn that optimism into cures. Non-scientific barriers to advancing innovation include knowledge-sharing among researchers, industry and caregivers, and current funding models, all of which can and should be addressed through political action.
Fortunately, the 21st Century Cures Act — which was signed into law by President Barack Obama this month — outlines several common-sense policies that offer solutions that give us the greatest chances of reaching a world free from death and suffering from cancers.
One critical part of the Cures proposal is a provision to include greater patient feedback data on the impact of therapies and treatments under review by the FDA. By incorporating self-reported symptom measurements as a regular part of clinical trials, patients can provide first-hand knowledge of quality of life measures like pain, nausea, fatigue, depression, or ability to carry out normal daily activities. This unique perspective on the benefits and risks of particular therapies is critically important as FDA evaluates the harms and benefits of new lines of treatment.
21st Century Cures will also support the FDA in working closely with trial sponsors to develop smarter, faster clinical studies with better-defined endpoints that can gauge patient responses to new therapies more quickly and guide regulatory decisions based on outcomes that are most meaningful to patients. These changes are designed to help promote more targeted and effective therapies for patients, increased competition among industry and lower associated costs.
Inspiring Cross-Sector Collaboration
No one organization alone will bring forth a world free from death and suffering from cancer on their own. 21st Century Cures will break down barriers among cancer researchers, physicians and patients to offer essential insights from the massive amount of health care data being generated today. A partnership formed earlier this year between Celgene and the National Cancer Institute serves as a working model for the types of collaborations needed for the Moonshot initiative to reach its potential. Similar programs will be supported by 21st Century Cures, which offers $5 million in funding for collaborative research programs that will collect and analyze data on diseases, with a particular focus on rare diseases.
Investing Today for Cures Tomorrow
While basic research sets the foundation for the development of new therapies, our scientists too often lack the resources needed to capitalize on the scientific opportunities of today. Compared to their 2003 levels (and adjusted for inflation), federally funded budgets for critical research centers such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI) are down 18 and 21 percent, respectively. The 21st Century Cures Act will provide the NIH with additional funding on top of its annual appropriations to support its strategic initiatives. Such innovative federal research funding models are essential to producing research that has the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment.
Policy Can Help Cure Cancer
In September, more than 25,000 lanterns with the names of cancer survivors and those who have died from disease surrounded the Capitol Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C. during the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s Lights of Hope ceremony. The annual event is designed to serve as a reminder of the integral role legislators in Washington play in fostering the dramatic breakthroughs we need to cure cancers that continue to kill our loved ones.
A supportive environment for medical innovation provided by 21st Century Cures will help determine whether we achieve our goal of eliminating all cancers and fulfill the hope of the patients we serve. The enactment of this law has set a critical bar and momentum for the 115th session that is vital to keeping a world free of suffering from cancers within reach.