Experts Recommend Overhaul of 'War on Cancer'
WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - Congress should implement broad new legislation to recast the government's 30-year-old war on cancer, according to a report issued Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
The recommendations are designed to overhaul the National Cancer Act, which was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon in 1971. The act directed record funding and research activities toward finding a cure for cancer, but has since been deemed largely a failure by policymakers and researchers who have seen cancer rates rise in the US.
The new recommendations call on Congress to increase support for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) over and above the doubling of funds the institute's parent National Institutes of Health expects between 1998 and 2003. Lawmakers should boost the NCI budget to allow the agency to fund 40% of its grant applications instead of the 28% it funds today, according to the report issued by the National Cancer Legislation Advisory Council.
Experts also called for policymakers to ``streamline and accelerate'' the Food and Drug Administration's approval process for new cancer drugs and devices. Federal agencies, they said, should bring together industry and patient groups to help establish ``surrogate endpoints'' that can speed clinical trials of new products.
The report also advocates new tax incentives and patent extensions for drug companies that develop new cancer therapies. Many companies have steered clear of the fragmented and non-lucrative cancer drug market.
``The private sector has not embraced cancer for good economic reasons,'' Dr. Anna D. Barker, president of the technology transfer firm BIO-NOVA Inc., told members of the Senate Cancer Coalition.
Experts also cited a shortage of trained researchers and healthcare providers specializing in cancer and called on Congress to come up with scholarship programs or tax breaks for trainees entering the cancer field.
``The hardships we place in the paths of young investigators are too severe,'' said Dr. George Vande Woude, director of the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
As for cancer prevention, the recommendations also ask Congress to give the Food and Drug Administration ``broad and unfettered'' authority to regulate tobacco and to triple the federal excise tax on tobacco to fund anti-smoking efforts.
Members of the Senate Cancer Coalition, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) have linked a Cancer Act revamp to a goal of eradicating cancer ``in our lifetime.'' It remains unclear when lawmakers will introduce sweeping cancer legislation.