publication date: Nov. 13, 2020
A Biden-Harris administration will help sustain our momentum in the fight against cancer
By Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD
President, American Association for Cancer Research,
Professor of medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine,
University of California Los Angeles;
Director, UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Tumor Immunology Program
The recent historic election of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris provides an exciting opportunity for the cancer research and medical science communities during the next four years to dramatically improve the health of our nation and the world.
This is due to how these two extraordinary leaders have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to the promise of federally-funded research, provided exceptional leadership to the scientific community, and exhibited an intense and personal dedication to changing the future for all who are touched by cancer as well as any of the hundreds of other diseases that afflict millions of Americans and people around the world.
Their passionate call for unity, collaboration, and cooperation, as well as their sincere devotion to the values of research, trust in science, and welcoming international talent to our great nation, will help pave the way to answering a plethora of vital scientific questions.
Over many years, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris have been consistent supporters for robust, sustained, and predictable annual funding increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
Most notably, Biden’s efforts secured an authorization of $1.8 billion over seven years for the Cancer Moonshot Initiative through the 21st Century Cures bill, which was passed and signed into law by President Obama in December 2016. Harris, whose mother dedicated her professional life as a biomedical scientist to finding a cure for breast cancer, often talks about how she will always fight for public funding for cancer research.
While we anticipate that the overall fiscal environment will be challenging in 2021 and beyond, the executive and the legislative branches have signaled alignment in regard to prioritizing NIH and NCI annual funding increases. Of note, the majority of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have been enthusiastically leading the way in recognizing the importance of medical research for fueling the scientific discoveries that are critically needed in these challenging times.
In fact, NIH champions of cancer research in Congress, including Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), as well as House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK), will have productive partners in the White House for the next four years to continue the momentum for advances in cancer research and medical science.
These four remarkable leaders in Congress have been instrumental in overseeing significant increases in the NIH budget during the past five years. Since FY 2016, this lifesaving agency’s funding level has increased by $11.6 billion, or 39%.
The Biden-Harris administration will also bring a keen understanding of many of the issues that are important for accelerating the pace of progress against cancer. As many of you will remember, President Obama announced the launch of the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative in his 2016 State of the Union address and appointed Vice President Biden to lead it.
Biden’s sage efforts had a monumental effect on the research community. Researchers, physician-scientists, and patient advocates began cooperating and collaborating in new and innovative ways; scientific data began being collected, shared, and utilized in more productive ways than ever before; and patients with cancer found it much easier to search for and enroll in cancer clinical trials than at any time in our nation’s history.
This was accomplished via one of the Moonshot initiatives that involved researchers establishing a network to engage directly with patients. The network enabled patients who were diagnosed with cancer to have their tumors molecularly profiled and preregistered for potential clinical trials.
AACR thought leadership on science
Just four days before President Obama’s final State of the Union Address, the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) convened 15 distinguished cancer researchers and physician-scientists representing nine states and 10 of the top cancer centers and medical institutions in the U.S. to meet with Vice President Biden’s senior staff to provide insight into the state of cancer research to help inform the administration’s Cancer “Moonshot” Program, which had been formally announced during the State of the Union address.
Additionally, throughout 2016, prominent AACR members were also part of a small group of international leaders in cancer research and cancer treatment that the vice president convened to discuss potential opportunities to advance the pace of progress in the fight against cancer. AACR members also met with the vice president at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and also hosted him at the 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans.
The bottom line is that the progress, promise, and potential of cancer research were a focal point of the national conversation throughout 2016, which was sparked by Vice President Biden who had dedicated his enormous energy to “a moonshot in this country to cure cancer… an absolute national commitment to end cancer” as it was known in 2016.
Therefore, President-elect Biden’s experience and leadership in many areas of cancer research will clearly be extremely important and helpful to the entire medical research community, especially because this is a time of unprecedented scientific and technological progress.
There are so many extraordinary research opportunities now that are ready to propel us toward defeating cancer and many other diseases. Having the Biden-Harris team at this propitious time is very important to the conquest of these diseases that afflict so many Americans.
President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris also both know firsthand the devastating effects of cancer. Biden’s eldest son, Beau, died of glioblastoma in 2015, and Harris’ mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, PhD—a cancer researcher and AACR member—died of colon cancer in 2009.
In fact, Harris credits much of her passion and support for health care for all Americans to her experience as the daughter of a woman who was a breast cancer researcher and was sadly diagnosed with advanced colon cancer and then succumbed to the disease.
Drawing from his own personal experience, one of the messages that President-elect Biden shared with the nearly 20,000 assembled researchers at the 2016 AACR Annual Meeting in New Orleans was his encouragement to re-align the incentives in cancer research to better serve patients.
What is clear from the personal experiences of both Biden and Harris is that they fully appreciate the fact that the only way we will continue to accelerate the progress we are making against this terrible disease that will kill more than 600,000 Americans this year is for us to continue to invest in science and knowledge and translate these research advances for the benefit of patients with cancer.
The AACR looks forward to continuing to provide thought leadership to President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris and their staffs, especially since the AACR provides an optimal platform for collaborations, bringing together the greatest minds in all areas of cancer research to help support many promising initiatives in the field.
The AACR is well positioned to identify key areas of transformative research and ensure an integrative, multidisciplinary approach to cancer research, which is pivotal to making exponential progress against cancer. Therefore, members stand ready to assist the Biden-Harris administration to achieve the goal of accelerating the prevention and cure of the more than 200 diseases we call cancer.