More than 1.6 million people developed cancer in the U.S. in 2015, and 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer over the course of their lives. Cancer also has a major fiscal impact: the economic burden totaled $263.8 billion in 2013, translating to nearly $900 per American. On March 10, 2016, Research!America, in partnership with AcademyHealth, American Cancer Society, and Celgene Corporation convened a panel of cancer experts to discuss how research is working to stop cancer.
Dr. Lisa Simpson, president and CEO of AcademyHealth, started the conversation by outlining cancer innovation as a continuum. Basic research provides answers on how living organisms work and what causes disease; clinical research searches for ways to prevent and treat disease; population-based research reveals the nature and burden of disease on a macro level; health services research informs the delivery of care to maximize quality and access and ensure dollars are wisely spent; and translational research evaluates what works best and ensures these best practices are used.
As a cancer survivor herself, Dr. Simpson was passionate about all aspects of this research process and noted how federal agencies such as the Agency for Healthcare Quality Research (AHRQ), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all play integral roles in conducting and funding the research continuum.
Representing the patient perspective was Michael Holtz, who serves as the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network State Lead Ambassador for Tennessee and is a survivor of stage-3b colorectal cancer. Holtz discussed his battle with cancer and his journey for a cure, as well as the reality of living with unexpected side effects after his successful treatment.
Young scientist Jan Eberth, Ph.D., discussed her work at the University of South Carolina focusing on cancer epidemiology. Through her work, Dr. Eberth has found troubling geographical and socioeconomic variation in access to appropriate care. As a recipient of NIH funding, Dr. Ebert stressed the important role NIH plays in building scientists’ careers, something she said is an often forgotten.
Joel Beetsch, Ph.D., Vice President of Global Patient Advocacy and Corporate Affairs at Celgene, spoke next on the role of the biopharmaceutical industry in cancer research and therapeutic development. Dr. Beetsch has seen first-hand how R&D leads to lifesaving innovations. He outlined how investment by both the public and private sectors has led to better cancer treatments. He closed his talk by highlighting how small investments in innovative treatments lead to large returns, reminding the audience that only 1% of U.S. healthcare dollars are spent on cancer research but that the impact of that spending has been profound.
Wrapping up the discussion was Larry Kessler, Sc.D., Professor in the Department of Health Services at the University of Washington School of Public Health. His research focuses on translating laboratory and clinical findings to patients, as well as overcoming the problems with getting the right treatments to the right patient populations in a cost-effective and timely manner. To underscore the value of translational research, Dr. Kessler cited the Women’s Health Initiative, which identified an increased cancer risk for certain patient populations using hormone therapy. Initially and throughout this decade-long study, it was criticized as simply too costly; however, the findings led to more appropriate use of hormone therapy and a major reduction in health spending. In fact, the economic return has been estimated at $37.1 billion, about $140 for every $1 spent on the trial.
Each speaker provided a unique perspective on the current state of cancer research, while also showcasing the interdependence of each stage of the research continuum. While much progress has been made in cancer research, more needs to be done. This sobering fact is what has prompted the Cancer Moonshot initiative, reinvigorating the discussion on finding better therapies, treatments, and ultimately cures for cancer. We can “get there from here” in the fight against cancer, but it will take a commitment to support research across the entire continuum, public and private sector, bench to bedside.