Mar 30, 2017 3:00 PM

Beckerle testifies at hearing

Mary Beckerle, PhD, CEO of Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah, testified before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on March 29, 2017. She spoke on the impact of federally-funded cancer research. Beckerle was invited to testify at this bipartisan hearing by Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings. 

Chaffetz described the human toll of cancer, noting that the disease “will take the lives of roughly 1,500 people a day.” Chaffetz described that the committee wanted to hear what could happen with more funding, and to hear from the panel about research currently underway. “There are some really exciting, amazing things that are giving people a lot of hope,” he told the committee.

Cummings added, “There are few investments that we make that are more significant than biomedical research. The work of NIH is transformational, with the power to turn ideas into cures.” Cummings noted that biomedical research is an “economic engine, generating activity in every state in the country. NIH grants support high quality research and high quality jobs that help us grow our science and technology workforce.”

Beckerle described the Cancer Centers program administered by the National Cancer Institute, and explained how HCI is among a group of only 69 such centers in the United States, and the only center in the Mountain West region of Utah, Nevada, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Cancer centers must demonstrate breadth and depth of research, cancer focus, and impact through dissemination of their findings through their catchment area. Cancer Centers are evaluated regularly through peer review and rigorous reporting requirements. She also highlighted specific examples of progress in the fight against cancer, including: the cancer death rate has declined by more than 23% since 1991; there are over 15 million cancer survivors in the US today; and the FDA has approved 17 new cancer treatments in the past 18 months.

“Research is our best defense against cancer,” stated Beckerle in her remarks before the committee. “Everything we know about cancer prevention and treatment today is based on research, including basic discovery science, which provided the new knowledge on which the health of our nation depends. It is an incredibly exciting and promising time in cancer research, and our national investment is having an impact.”

The hearing came shortly after the release of budget proposals from the Executive branch that would significantly reduce research funding to the National Institutes of Health. “Our federal government has an unmatched and irreplaceable role in supporting robust, consistent, and sustained investment in cancer research. I am deeply concerned that the proposal to cut funding to the NIH by nearly 20% in FY18 will have a devastating impact on our progress toward defeating cancer,” said Beckerle.

Fellow witnesses included Tyler Jacks, PhD, of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT; Elizabeth Jaffee, MD, of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University; and Tammi Carr, a mother whose son succumbed to a rare, pediatric brain tumor.

The Oversight Committee identified the following key takeaways from the hearing:

  • Research funded by the National Cancer Institute has broad applications for many types of cancer, paving the way to advanced and accessible cancer treatments.
  • Modest investments early in the research process yield substantial long-term results.
  • Reducing National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding would negatively impact a generation of research and innovation.
  • The national cancer research infrastructure encourages collaboration that leads to innovative cancer treatments.
  • The Carr family and the ChadTough Foundation highlight the need for federal funding for rare pediatric brain cancers.

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Cancer touches all of us.

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