publication date: Dec. 2, 2016
Just as Feared: House Version of Cures Bill Gives Moonshot Money to NIH Director
By Matthew Bin Han Ong
In an unusual move, the National Cancer Advisory Board fired off a letter urging Congress to authorize additional “moonshot” funds, and—just as importantly—to place these new funds in the NCI budget.
The NCAB letter, dated Nov. 22, was likely motivated by insider accounts of a drive by top NIH officials to intercept these new dollars and place them under the purview of the NIH director (The Cancer Letter, Nov. 4).
The cancer groups’ concerns were based on solid Capitol Hill intelligence gathering—and, as it turns out, they were justified.
On Nov. 30, the House of Representatives voted to approve a revised version of the 21st Century Cures Act, a broad measure designed to accelerate drug development and modernize clinical trials.
NIH is slated to receive a $4.8 billion funding increase in the House version of the bill, which includes $1.8 billion over the next seven years for the moonshot.
The bill lumps these cancer research dollars under “NIH Innovation Projects.” Funding for those projects is “authorized to be appropriated from the Account to the Director of NIH,” the bill states.
It’s unknown whether the language will remain intact as the Senate considers the bill next week, or whether NCI would eventually—if at all—have full oversight of the additional funds.
NCAB, a committee whose members are appointed by the White House, rarely writes letters to Congress. In the Nov. 22 letter, the group placed the issue of authority over the moonshot funds in the broader context of Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, noting that the “exhaustive effort” engaged more than 1,500 leaders from the cancer community (The Cancer Letter, Sept. 9).
If the Cures legislation is passed by the Senate and signed into law, it would likely live on in the next administration.
“The NCAB wishes to declare its full support for an increase and sustained government investment, an absolute requirement for the successful implementation of the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations, to accelerate cancer research to bring the most promising science and clinical developments to cancer patients and those at risk of developing cancer in their lifetime,” wrote Elizabeth Jaffee, NCAB chair, and co-chair of NCI’s Blue Ribbon Panel.
Moonshot money should go directly to NCI, the letter states.
“It is important to direct additional cancer research funds to the NCI, the agency that leads the national cancer program, in support of the Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations,” wrote Jaffee, deputy director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, co-director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Program, and the Dana and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli Professor of Oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The fear of losing control over these funds has been in the air for months.
On Nov. 3, One Voice Against Cancer, a coalition of nearly 50 cancer-related organizations, authored a letter urging Congress to “specifically” direct moonshot funds to NCI. (The Cancer Letter, Nov. 4).
“NIH does not lobby Congress,” NIH officials said at the time to The Cancer Letter.
In another telling event, the NCI Bypass Budget for fiscal 2018 failed to appear on an originally scheduled date in October. Washington insiders immediately blamed top NIH leadership for thwarting the effort to publish the document that reflects the institute director’s professional judgment of opportunities in cancer research (The Cancer Letter, Oct. 14).
The document remains unpublished.
“As demonstrated by the Blue Ribbon Panel and other large scale efforts, NCI can rapidly bring the cancer community together in pursuit of a common goal,” Jaffee wrote in the NCAB letter to Congress. “It can provide the coordination and collaboration needed to implement the Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations efficiently, effectively, and equitably, as envisioned by the Panel members.”
The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Members of Congress,
We are writing to express unqualified endorsement of increased fiscal year 2017 support to implement the Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations for cancer research, and strongly recommend that NIH-related funding for this effort be coordinated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This letter also conveys the support and intention of the full NCAB, which at its 7 September 2016 meeting passed a motion supporting these recommendations. We ask that you not allow this unique opportunity to pass.
Earlier this year, I had the honor of co-chairing a Blue Ribbon Panel, convened by the NCI’s Cancer Advisory Board, the NCAB, to identify the specific scientific areas, which, with renewed focus of energy and resources, could dramatically accelerate advances in cancer detection, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. Through an exhaustive effort that engaged more than 1500 prominent diverse leaders from the cancer community, the report of the Blue Ribbon Panel outlines ten priorities that represent the consensus of researchers, practitioners, patients, patient advocates, industry leaders, and philanthropists who share this goal. Investment in these ten priority areas will accelerate discovery and improve outcomes for cancer patients, reduce new cancer cases, and improve quality of life for cancer survivors. The executive summary and complete report is available at: https://www.cancer.gov/brp.
It is important to direct additional cancer research funds to the NCI, the agency that leads the national cancer program, in support of the Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations. As demonstrated by the Blue Ribbon Panel and other large scale efforts, NCI can rapidly bring the cancer community together in pursuit of a common goal. It can provide the coordination and collaboration needed to implement the Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations efficiently, effectively, and equitably, as envisioned by the Panel members.
The NCAB wishes to declare its full support for an increase and sustained government investment, an absolute requirement for the successful implementation of the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations, to accelerate cancer research to bring the most promising science and clinical developments to cancer patients and those at risk of developing cancer in their lifetime.
On behalf of patients, researchers, and the many others in the cancer community, thank you for your longstanding support for cancer research. Your commitment is what has made the opportunities outlined by the Blue Ribbon Panel possible. We look forward to working with you to bring more promise and hope to eliminate cancer from the world.
Elizabeth M. Jaffee, M.D.
Elizabeth M. Jaffee, M.D.
Peter C. Adamson, M.D.
Francis Ali-Osman, D.Sc.
Deborah Watkins Bruner, R.N., Ph.D., F.A.A.N.
Yuan Chang, M.D.
David C. Christiani, M.D., M.P.H.
Judy E. Garber, M.D., M.P.H.
Lawrence O. Gostin, J.D.
Scott W. Hiebert, Ph.D.
Beth Y. Karlan, M.D.
Timothy J. Ley, M.D.
Electra D. Paskett, Ph.D.
Nancy J. Raab-Traub, Ph.D.
Mack Roach III, M.D., F.A.C.R.
Charles L. Sawyers, M.D.
Margaret R. Spitz, M.D.
Max S. Wicha, M.D.
Paulette S. Gray, Ph.D.