House Cancer Caucus Revitalized by New Leadership

On June 29, the House Cancer Caucus hosted its first briefing of the 115th Congress under its new leadership. The standing room only event was co-hosted by returning Caucus co-chair Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA) as well as new co-chairs Reps. Brian Higgins (D-NY), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and Kevin Yoder (R-KS). The legislators convened Congressional staffers to educate them on current breakthroughs being made by top researchers and drug manufacturers, and the impact of these breakthroughs on cancer patients.

Dr. Louis Weiner, Director of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, moderated the event, which featured panelists, Dr. Roy Jensen, Director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center and AACI President-Elect, as well as AACI Board Member, and President and CEO of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Dr. Candace Johnson. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Executive Vice President and Deputy Director, Dr. Fred Applebaum, Executive Vice President of Novartis, Bill Hinshaw, and cancer patient, Ashley Randolph, were also part of the panel.

The House Cancer Caucus is a bipartisan caucus open to members of the House of Representatives. Though informal and not required to hold regular hearings or meetings, the group aims to educate Congress and staff as well as promote the importance of cancer research.

Reps. Dent, Higgins, Kilmer and Yoder kicked off the event, with Rep. Kilmer telling attendees, “When we make investments in research, we are making investments in cures.”

Dr. Weiner opened the program by explaining that in the ninety minutes the group would be together, 225 Americans would be diagnosed with cancer. Drs. Weiner, Jensen, Johnson, and Applebaum described the exciting discoveries taking place in cancer research, highlighting the need for an increase in prevention efforts, the need for stable, predictable federal funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the need for patient advocates to get involved in advocating for cancer research, either via their local cancer center or otherwise.

Dr. Jensen said that cancer centers take the mandate to engage in cutting edge clinical research very seriously and Dr. Johnson added that the way to solve the problem of cancer is to work together. Mr. Hinshaw highlighted the complex ecosystem of cancer, and the need for pharmaceutical companies to make an impact. When asked by an audience member what keeps him up at night, Dr. Jensen described the challenge of moving projects forward with fewer resources, while Dr. Johnson said that pharmaceutical companies are helping, but they have their own challenges as money is tight. She said the stakes are too high to stop now- that we must continue to make progress. Dr. Applebaum stressed the importance of developing public/private partnerships to further progress.

Ms. Randolph, a Stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer patient, described her cancer journey and explained how cancer research led to her receiving proper treatment at Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute. She continues her battle and takes an oral chemotherapy agent costing $15,000 per month. She said that the president’s proposed cut to the NIH for Fiscal Year 2018 is “insane and unacceptable.”