AACI Endorses Blue Ribbon Panel Recommendations

The Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) strongly supports recommendations issued today by the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel, and thanks the panel’s members who lead AACI cancer centers for their service to the cancer research community.

At the request of the White House, under the leadership of Vice President Joe Biden, the Blue Ribbon Panel has produced a report outlining areas of urgent action to speed progress in the field of cancer research. brp-report-cover

The panel, comprised of scientific experts, cancer leaders, and patient advocates, includes four AACI cancer center directors: Mary Beckerle, PhD,CEO and Director, Huntsman Cancer Institute, Salt Lake City; Chi Van Dang, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Director, Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Augusto Ochoa, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Director, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center Louisiana State University, New Orleans; and, Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Professor of Oncology, Professor of Biochemistry, and Director, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Nashville, Tennessee. In addition, Laurie Glimcher, MD, Professor of Medicine and Dean, Weill Cornell Medical College, is incoming President and CEO, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston.

The report’s recommendations include a focus on areas where we are poised to accelerate scientific progress as well as patient involvement, developing a “national cancer ecosystem” and working together to share data and results more effectively.

“As a primary source for the generation, collection and use of molecular, clinical and outcomes data, AACI and its member cancer centers fully support the Blue Ribbon Panel’s call to revolutionize the generation and sharing of medical and research data,” said AACI President George J. Weiner, MD.

Dr. Weiner stressed that steady, predictable funding for the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute is vital as cancer centers work to share data and improve information systems and communication across the cancer continuum. Streamlining regulatory oversight of these efforts, while also protecting patient privacy, is central to optimizing progress.

A key element of AACI’s mission is helping cancer centers keep pace with the changing landscape in science, technology and health care. The Blue Ribbon Panel report notes that “the vast majority of Americans do not have easy access to precision cancer testing since oncology clinical trials are offered mainly at large academic cancer centers and not at community cancer centers where most cancer patients receive their treatments.” In July, AACI presented a white paper to the Office of the Vice President detailing AACI President-Elect Stanton L. Gerson, MD’s presidential initiative to include the academic cancer centers as the focal point for broader community access. The white paper focused on the deep impact AACI centers have on cancer care and novel therapy through clinical trials.

“AACI looks forward to collaborating with the members of the Blue Ribbon Panel in order to implement their important recommendations and to meet the Vice President’s goal of ending cancer as we know it,” said AACI Executive Director Barbara Duffy Stewart, MPH.

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AACI Thanks President Obama, Vice President Biden for Highlighting “Cancer Moonshot”

The Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) thanks President Barack Obama for his call for a “cancer moonshot” in his final State of the Union address, and Vice President Joe Biden’s focus on expanded cooperation among cancer centers.

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Vice President Joe Biden

AACI President George J. Weiner, MD, director of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa, applauded the President’s remarks, saying:

“It is an incredible time in cancer research and cancer medicine. In many ways, a cancer moonshot is much more challenging than the original moonshot.  There is only one moon, and its behavior is predictable based on the laws of physics.   However, every cancer is different and every patient is different.  Nevertheless, based on years of progress resulting from research conducted in large part at the nation’s academic cancer centers, we now understand cancer better than ever and are advancing clinical care for cancer patients at a rapid pace.”

In a follow-up to the President’s speech, Vice President Biden outlined in a blog post plans to encourage leading cancer centers to reach unprecedented levels of cooperation.  AACI cancer centers currently collaborate in many ways based on the understanding that success in cancer research, education and care is faster when we work together.  The Vice President’s call to action will push AACI cancer centers to a new level of partnership and cooperation. Comprised of 95 premier academic cancer research centers in the U.S. and Canada, AACI is poised to ease the burden of cancer by supporting the ability of its member centers to work together.

“A coordinated cancer moonshot will allow us to accelerate our research progress, thereby reducing the pain and suffering caused by cancer, for current and future generations,” Dr. Weiner said.  “The nation’s cancer centers look forward to working with the President and Vice President to move these general concepts from the drawing board to the launching pad.”

On The Hill: Cancer Center Directors, Patient Advocate Stress Need for Increased Funding

On February 11, AACI hosted an educational briefing on Capitol Hill, with support from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and in cooperation with the House Cancer Caucus. The briefing focused on educating new legislators, their staff, and Hill veterans about the importance of the nation’s cancer centers. The panelists were: AACI President George J. Weiner, MD, director, Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center; Roy A. Jensen, MD, director, The University of Kansas Cancer Center; Candace S. Johnson, PhD, president and CEO and director, Roswell Park Cancer Institute; and Averl Anderson, a patient advocate from Buffalo, New York.

GR education panel Feb 2015

AACI Capitol Hill cancer research briefing: (L-R) Cancer center directors George Weiner, Roy Jensen and Candace Johnson, with patient advocate Averl Anderson.

As the panel’s moderator, Dr. Weiner, who also serves as vice chair of AACR’s Science Policy and Government Affairs committee, highlighted the role that cancer centers play in conducting and supporting multidisciplinary cancer research; training cancer physicians and scientists; providing state-of-the-art care and disseminating information about cancer detection, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, control, palliative care, and survivorship.

Despite significant progress in combating the disease, the cancer community still faces difficult challenges, Dr. Weiner said. For example, many new ideas are going untested because of shrinking resources–the NIH budget has dropped 24 percent ($6.5 billion) since 2003, when accounting for inflation in the cost of biomedical research, and NCI’s budget has been cut 26.4 percent ($1.2 billion).

Dr. Johnson recalled the many opportunities that were available to her when she was a young scientist, but she is now concerned that stagnant funding will drive today’s budding scientists out of the field, thus impeding research progress.

“If we didn’t have these [cancer] centers it would be a loss to patients and everyone in the country,” Dr. Johnson said.

Dr. Jensen, whose center received NCI designation in 2012, also highlighted cancer centers’ role in driving research, stressing the need for predictable federal funding in order for cancer centers to make faster progress.

Ms. Anderson discussed her volunteer work with the Roswell Park Buffalo/Niagara Witness Project, a program targeting underserved women in Buffalo. In 2008 the Witness Project set a goal to recruit 200 women to acquire mammograms. Ms. Anderson was the 200th volunteer and the only one to be diagnosed with breast cancer. She said that the mammogram saved her life; she also credited the care that she received as part of a clinical trial at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Ms. Anderson urged that myths about cancer prevention and detection and the history of cancer be dispelled. In some communities, especially minority communities, cancer diagnoses are not discussed among families and friends, she said, noting that in some homes it is taboo for children to hear about aunts, uncles and parents with cancer.

“Cancer is growing. We need to grow with it and funding must grow with it,” she said.

Jennifer W. Pegher, AACI Government Relations Manager