In the Fight against Breast Cancer, Federal Research Funding is Essential

Molly Johnson, Manager, Public Policy & Advocacy, Susan G. Komen

More than 250,000 Americans will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and 40,000 individuals will lose their lives to the disease (most to metastatic breast cancer, or MBC, which is breast cancer that has spread to other organs in the body).

From Susan G. Komen’s point of view, investment in breakthrough breast cancer research, especially in projects focused on metastatic disease, is one of the most significant ways we can make progress and save lives from breast cancer.

But research is expensive, and metastatic disease is cunning. An estimated 94% of women who are diagnosed with MBC were previously diagnosed with an earlier stage of the disease, maybe even decades prior. Then the tumor spreads or becomes resistant to treatment, and it’s on to the next experimental therapy. The path for patients is grueling, painful and expensive.

This fight needs innovative ideas, and the financial backing to bring them to life.

Scientists have had this ally in the Department of Defense’s Breast Cancer Research Program (DoD BCRP), part of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP). Since its establishment in 1992, Congress has provided the CDMRP with funds to support high-impact, high-risk and high-gain projects that other agencies and private investors may be unwilling to fund.

Unfortunately, the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill that was approved by the Senate recently included provisions that would weaken the CDMRP and jeopardize health care for servicemen and women, veterans, and their families, as well as millions of Americans who benefit from the innovative research it supports. Komen is a member of the Defense Health Research Consortium, which continues to fight to prevent these harmful provisions from being enacted and ensure that this vital research continues.

Further, organizations like Komen have an important role to play in funding breast cancer research as well. In fact, Komen has invested $956 million to date, including more than $180 million in MBC research specifically. And this year, we’re making MBC our focus, inviting people to donate directly to four important research projects (read more here about the incredible work of Dr. Yibin Kang, Dr. Alana Welm, Dr. Soledad Sosa and Dr. Danny Welch).

But the capacity of non-profit organizations to invest in research does not compare to that of the federal government. Therefore, our power on this issue – and yours – lies in our ability to tell our stories. To elevate the voices of loved ones, patients and researchers, until we see these funds are no longer in danger. To tell the stories of investigators like Dr. Welch (above) of the University of Kansas Medical Center who leads several projects supported by the DoD BCRP that, in his own words, would “would NEVER be funded by NIH” – projects that led to, for example, the discovery of the first breast cancer metastasis suppressor gene (BRMS1).

Especially during October – when the whole country is talking about breast cancer – let’s make sure that critical research funding is a part of the conversation. Because if there is a time to make your voice heard on biomedical research, it is now. We need research, not red tape. Urge your Member of Congress to protect CDMRP funding.

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco