publication date: Mar. 18, 2017

White House “vision” would cripple NIH

Dear Reader,

This issue of The Cancer Letter is free. Send this link to your colleagues.

Share it because on March 16, while America slept, the White House launched a surprise attack on biomedical research. Share it because the entire enterprise of cancer research—and yes, the lives of cancer patients—are under a clear threat. Share it because good things happen when good people are informed.

The package of stories in front of you provides comprehensive coverage of President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut the NIH budget by over 18 percent in FY 2018. This would drop federal funding for NIH below the 2003 level.

The year 2003 marked the completion of the doubling of the NIH budget. John Porter, a former House appropriator who spearheaded the doubling, is now one of the people shocked by Trump’s proposal. “It will take us below the baseline that we achieved by doubling,” Porter said to me. “That doesn’t even take inflation into account.

“If you want to make America great, you don’t take America’s worldwide scientific lead and cut it.”

These proposed cuts came as a surprise to folks who usually get warning of impending catastrophes.

According to the White House, NIH needs to be reconfigured because—to quote Sean Spicer—its research is  riddled with “duplicity.” The much-lampooned spokesman may have meant “duplication,” or he may not have.

Suppose four or eight years from now, another administration comes in and decides that biomedical research is good.

If Trump’s vision prevails, an entire generation of researchers will have moved on to less hostile work environments, said Blase Polite, chair of the Government Affairs Committee of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

“Medical research isn’t something that you can turn on and off like a faucet,” said Nancy Davidson, president of the American Association for Cancer Research.

It would be appropriate to disclose The Cancer Letter’s editorial vantage point. We are nonpartisan. Our job is to keep institutions accountable. The Cancer Letter is now in its 43rd year of exposing deviations from solid, evidence-based policy.

Leaf through the 10,000-word package of stories before you. This is Day One coverage of the president’s budget proposal—establishing the record, letting questions percolate.

Is this proposal the beginning of a new era in cancer politics? Will opposition endure? Will the voices of cancer scientists and cancer patients be heard on Capitol Hill? Most importantly, who has the capacity to lead this fight?

Former Vice President Joe Biden was the last person to galvanize the cacophony of voices that make up oncology. He did this in a bipartisan manner, without bruising too many egos and hardly ever overpromising. Can Biden do this? Should he? Will he?

Joe, are you reading this?


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