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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan October 7, 2011

Cancer research funding gets small increases, but not doubled

Back in 2007,  Barack Obama pledged to double federal funding for cancer research in five years. But so far in his presidency, that doesn"t seem to be happening.

Funding for the National Cancer Institute was hovering around $4.8 billion a year before Obama took office. In the president"s most recent budget, the National Cancer Institute was budgeted for $5.196 billion.

To be sure, Obama made the promise before it was clear the economy was taking a historic turn for the worse. And the National Cancer Institute did get an additional $1.3 billion over two years from the stimulus.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent us this statement when we asked about funding for the National Cancer Institute: "While budgets remain tight in these difficult economic times, funding for cancer research at NIH and NCI has increased ...  In the time between now and 2015, HHS will continue to work with appropriators in Congress to increase funding for cancer research."

We will examine this promise again if the funding picture appears to change significantly. But for now, we rate this Promise Broken.

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Robert Farley
By Robert Farley February 26, 2009

More money, but a long ways from doubling

Barack Obama has long made it clear that cancer research is an issue close to his heart and would be a priority of his presidency. In his book Dreams From My Father , Obama called his mother's death from ovarian cancer in 1995 the worst experience of his life.

During his presidential campaign, he put out a four-page position paper outlining his cancer agenda, anchored by the promise to double federal funding for cancer research in five years.

Obama has stuck to that line early in his presidency. Speaking to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 24, Obama said the economic stimulus package he signed on Feb. 17 "will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American, including me, by seeking a cure for cancer in our time."

It's a lofty goal considering that federal funding to the National Cancer Institute, which does the lion's share of the cancer research, has remained fairly flat — hovering around $4.8 billion a year — for the last five years. Scientists have lamented the stagnation of funding, which they said could stall major advances made in cancer research.

In a Wall Street Journal article last summer, Dr. Nancy Davidson, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, said the funding plateau has led to a curtailment of research into breast cancer, melanoma, sarcoma and pediatric cancer.

Obama's budget proposal unveiled on Feb. 26 claims to turn the tide.

According to an accompanying report from the Office of Management and Budget, Obama's plan "includes over $6 billion within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support cancer research. This funding is central to the president"s sustained, multiyear plan to double cancer research. These resources will be committed strategically to have the greatest impact on developing innovative diagnostics, treatments and cures for cancer. This initiative will build upon the unprecedented $10 billion provided in the recovery act, which will support new NIH research in 2009 and 2010."

First, some perspective. Last year, the NIH received approximately $5.57 billion for cancer research, so raising that to $6 billion represents a roughly 8 percent boost. An increase, but not revolutionary.

There's also money for cancer research in the separate economic stimulus bill, which includes $10 billion for NIH. But there are 27 institutes in the NIH, and only a portion of the $10 billion will go to cancer research. The National Cancer Institute — which, again, gets most but not all of the NIH's cancer research funds — anticipates it will get about $1.3 billion from the stimulus plan.

NCI director Dr. John E. Niederhuber said in a recent article about the stimulus, "I believe this sizable figure is a profound affirmation from President Obama and the American people of the importance of tackling the cancer burden and a sign of their confidence that we are well suited to meet that challenge."

But in order to double cancer research funding, Obama is going to need to get up to about $11 billion. If next year's budget is $6 billion, plus another $1 billion — maybe — from the stimulus, it's still well short of the goal.

It's also too early to predict what level of funding Congress will support. And Obama will have to seriously up the ante in future budgets to meet his cancer research goal. But Obama never promised he would get there in a year; and since he's getting more money for cancer research, we feel comfortable moving this one to In the Works.

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