Research funding

Tue Feb 25 13:50:00 EST 1997

Dear Friends and Collegues,
A few years ago, when then new Republican Congress initiated cuts in
the US budget, there was a potential threat that severe cuts will be
imposed on funding of NIH. The lonely supporters of the NIH funding
in the US Congress were Sen. Mark Hatfield (R.-Ore) and Sen. Tom
Harkin (D.-Iowa). Scientific community initiated, at that time,
intense lobbying in support of these Senators' proposal to increase
rather than cut the NIH funding. I was appealing on this forum, to
write letters of support for the initiative of these Senators. The
support was outpouring from other organizations, including AACR.  We
have won, and NIH funding escaped the budgetary cuts. Actually, the
Republican Congress is now more inclined to support the biomedical
research since it recently increased support for NIH above the level
initially requested by the Clinton Administration. It seems that we
have new opportunity to expand federal funding for research.
Specifically, two recent actions in the US Senate are in favor of
support for medical research. Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla) introduced a
resolution emphasizing the benefits of medical research, stating: "It
is the sense of the Senate that appropriations for the NIH should be
increased by 100% over the next 5 FY". Sen. Phil Gramm (R.-Tex)
introduced legislation, The National Research Investment Act of 1997,
to "double the amount of federal investment in basic science and
medical research over 10 years as a way to invest in the future of
our nation and its enhance the quality of life for all
Americans ... and to guarantee our leadership in science and
medicine". The momentum, thus, shifts favorably towards biomedical
funding. It appears that we have new friends in the US Congress. I
strongly appeal, therefore, maintain the momentum and to support
resolutions of Sens. Mack and Gramm by sending letters to your
Senators and Congressmen/women. In the Appended Envelope I have
included my article which emphasizes the low level of federal funding
for cancer research. I was using this text in my earlier appeals to
focus attention of public and political figures on the problem of
inadequate funding for cancer research. Please be free to cite the
statistics from this article or include it with the letters to your
Senators and Congressmen/women. 
Please remember that the increased funding for NIH is advantageous
not only the US researchers who may receive more grants, or to the US
citizens - the patients who may directly benefit from new discoveries
in biomedicine, but most importantly it benefits all humanity.
Science has no borders and we have become the "global village". The
research discoveries in one country benefit everyone on this globe.
Zbigniew Darzynkiewicz  

------------------- CANCERFU.LET follows --------------------
	Inadequate Funding of Cancer Research

	This year alone, over 1.2 million Americans will be diagnosed
	with cancer and over 600,000 will die of this dreadful disease.
	Thus, every 30 seconds a person is stricken with cancer and
	every minute another is dying. The number of Americans dying of
	cancer every month is close to the number of Americans killed
	during the entire Vietnam war. Statistically, at least one
	person in family of four is expected to develop cancer in her
	or his lifetime. The person dying of cancer is 14 years younger
	than the one dying of cardiovascular causes. Many of the
	victims are children. Behind these statistics are uncountable
	personal tragedies. Not only the tragedies of those diagnosed
	and dying, often in a prolonged and painful way, but also of
	their families and friends.  

        The sum that the U.S. federal government spends on cancer
        research (NIH, National Cancer Institute) this year is about two
        billion dollars, less than $ 10 per person. This amount is
        minuscule for a country with  a 1.5 trillion dollars national
        budget. This is especially striking when compared with wasteful
        spending on other purposes. Despite the dissolution of the Soviet
        Union, our main military adversary, we are still spending over
        150 times more on defense and 15 times more on spying than on
        cancer. Each B2 bomber costs the equivalent of the yearly cancer
        research budget. The same is true for a single nuclear powered
        submarine. Yet we still are building these dinosaures of the cold
        war era, for which no military targets now exist. The total sum
        which we are now paying for the fraud of bankrupt S&L
        institutions would fund the National Cancer Institute, at the
        current rate, for one hundred years. The list of items on which
        our tax money is being spent at a rate of billions of dollars per
        year, in a wasteful and sometimes ridiculous way, can go on and

        With new tools provided by molecular biology, significant strides
        have been made during the past decade to understand the
        mechanisms of cancer. The research of the past five years has
        brought a revolution in understanding the mechanism of cell
        proliferation ("cell cycle") and cell death ("apoptosis").  These
        are the most most essential cellular events associated with
        cancer. Numerous genes which are responsible for normal cells
        turning cancerous have been identified, isolated and cloned.  We
        are thus provided, for the first time, with a rational basis for
        entirely new strategies of cancer prevention and treatment.  For
        example, the gene-engineering approach offers the prospect of
        either transforming a cancer cell into a normal one, or selective
        killing of the former. It is now only a matter of time when more
        effective treatments will be introduced into the clinic.
        Unfortunately, time is running out for those stricken with cancer
        and those who will be struck tomorrow. There is no doubt that
        acceleration of cancer research will save many lives. If not our
        lives, certainly the lives of our children and grandchildren. The
        progress in cancer research also benefits areas such as AIDS,
        genetic, immunological and aging associated diseases, as well as
        many other biomedical fields.  

        No shortage of scientists that are able and willing to work in
        the field of cancer exists. The funds, however, are inadequate to
        support their positions and research. The latter is getting more
        and more costly as the tools are progressively more
        sophisticated. Less than 15% of the research proposals approved
        for support are now being funded by the National Cancer
        Institute. Many outstanding projects fall below the funding
        level. The most innovative and most imaginative programs have
        particularly bad prospects of funding. This is due to the fact
        that there is an inherent element of uncertainty of the outcome
        in such projects. With very limited funding usually only the
        "safe" projects, with a very predictable outcomes, can
        succesfully compete. Many talented researchers leave the field.
        Fewer students are willing to take up careers in cancer research.
        Since last year we have seen an alarming, nearly two-fold
        decrease in the number of young scientists applying for NIH
        grants. Private foundations provide some help, but can in no
        way substitute for the lack of interest at the national level.
        Repeated polls indicate that over 80 % of the respondents are
        willing to pay additional tax if it is used to support biomedical

        It is important to point out the purely economic importance of
        investment in health research.  Biotechnology is the most rapidly
        growing industry, worldwide. Government support for biotechnology
        is proportionally greater in Japan, Germany and France than it is
        in the United States. Consequently, we are losing the preeminence
        we once had, and with it goes a multi-billion- dollar industry.
        Needless to say, the investment we make now in basic biomedical
        research will bring real savings in the cost of patient care for
        years to come.  
        One may ask why the pharmaceutical industry does not rapidly
        develop anticancer drugs and thus why public funds are needed for
        this purpose. One reason is that the industry is not interested
        in testing and promoting research in areas where the potential
        drug cannot be patented. It now costs approximately a quarter of
        billion of dollars to develop a single drug to the point of its
        application in the clinic. One has to be naive to expect that any
        company will invest such a sum if no profit is anticipated.
        Perhaps thousands of promising new drugs collect dust on shelfs
        of many laboratories, because for one reason or another they
        cannot be patented. Another reason is that some cancer types are
        rare.  Development of a drug that would be active in only one
        type of rare cancer and thus have a limited market, also is not
        within the scope of the pharmaceutical industry. Likewise, the
        research which carries significant risk or uncertainty in terms
        of providing the immediate profit, is unlikely to be funded by
        the industry.

        Cancer collects its terrible toll every day. We need at least to
        quadruple the public spending on cancer research to find the cure
        for this terrible disease in our lifetime. Is it too much to ask
        to spend the equivalent of three B2 bombers per year to achieve
        this goal?

Zbigniew Darzynkiewicz, M.D., Ph.D. 
Professor of Medicine
N.Y. Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y. 

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