Now that the political conventions are behind us, we're starting to hear what each of the candidates would do as president. Funding for cancer research is one of those areas we're hearing about.
McCain and Obama disagree about plenty when it comes to health care, but they do agree on one thing: dramatically increasing the funding for cancer research. According to the Obama Cancer Plan, a President Obama would "double federal funding for cancer research within five years, focusing on NIH and NCI, and work with Congress to increase funding for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)." McCain's Plan specifically mentions that "John McCain has voted to double the funding for National Institutes of Health (NIH)" and as President "will make sure that our researchers have necessary funding to defeat cancer once and for all."
The National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) knows a lot about funding cancer research; in 1992 we launched a campaign to increase federal funding for breast cancer research. As I've discussed in past blogs, the result was the creation of the Department of Defense (DOD) Breast Cancer Research Program. As a result of NBCC's advocacy and strong bipartisan leadership on Capitol Hill, more than $2 billion has been invested in this competitive peer-reviewed research Program.
But NBCC didn't just ask for money. We asked for something much more controversial, and in many ways more important: real accountability and meaningful consumer involvement in every aspect of decision-making. We demanded that trained advocates be involved not only in the design and oversight of the program, but also in the peer-review process itself. Yes, there was a lot of resistance. But the program has thrived, generating a new level of innovative research that has led to groundbreaking scientific advances. Even the program's staunchest critics have come around.
We demanded consumer involvement because we knew that more money doesn't necessarily mean better research. Poorly designed and poorly implemented clinical trials waste resources and add nothing for patients. The same questions are asked again and again in laboratories. Research dollars can support years of looking at one gene from every possible angle, resulting in vast amounts of publications with minimal or no gain for the patients. Well-designed and well-implemented research on completely useless topics can cost plenty and still yield nothing. In short, there are an infinite number of ways to spend money badly.
We don't want to get funds for the scientific community and then go home and hope for the best. We also don't want "after-the-fact" accountability where we get to look back over the years to see all the ways money was wasted and opportunities squandered. What we do need is a specific vision for evaluating the quality of research and a plan for using every cancer research dollar wisely. And we desperately need a way for new, innovative ideas to be funded, not just more of the same old. Congress and the White House doubled the budget of the National Institutes of Health several years ago, getting no real accountability in return, and instead billions more down on the same old way of doing things. We deserve better.
So when the candidates tout the very popular mantra to double the NIH budget, demand they find out what has been done with the funding now. Demand more accountability and transparency from NIH. Demand some real progress.
Published On: September 15, 2008