Sequestration — it’s a word we’ve sure heard a lot lately. The automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts have the potential to significantly impact myriad government agencies and programs. Not only will sequestration affect the likes of defense spending, education, national security and other initiatives, but the cuts will also affect scientific research through cuts in funding to the National Institutes of Health, which fund critical research programs across the country.
CHOP’s Peter Adamson, MD, who heads the Children’s Oncology Group, the largest organization in the world dedicated to childhood and adolescent cancer research, was recently interviewed by journalist Paul Goldberg for the March 15 issue of The Cancer Letter. Dr. Adamson, who also serves as the chief of the Hospital’s Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, talked about the effect of the sequestration on cancer research.
“It sets us back, and it sets the outcomes for children with cancer back if we can’t move our highest-priority ideas forward into the clinical research and answer these important questions,” Dr. Adamson said, who also spoke of the different impact the sequestration may have on pediatric versus adult clinical trials.
Fifty years ago, only about 10 percent of children with cancer survived, Dr. Adamson noted. The investment in research and the rapid advance of science now means that the survival rates today for children with cancer have soared to nearly 80 percent.
While cancer studies for adults are frequently funded by the biopharmaceutical industry, Dr. Adamson said, the same cannot be said for pediatric cancer studies. The funding for those trials, which are critical for moving new therapies to patients’ bedside, come almost entirely from the National Cancer Institute.
“[T]he reason for that is that childhood cancers are a collection of rare and ultra-rare diseases,” Dr. Adamson said. “So the economic models for industry to get into drug development and research for pediatric cancer simply isn’t there.”
It is too early to anticipate what funds will be cut from COG programs, and what initiatives might feel the greatest impact, although Dr. Adamson speculates that up to 5 percent of COG funding will be cut.
He added that COG is committed to completing those pediatric cancer studies that are already underway but cautioned that the sequestration could jeopardize new studies looking at new and promising therapies and treatment approaches.
“The pace of discovery now was unimaginable even five, and certainly 10 years ago,” Dr. Adamson told The Cancer Letter. “And during that discovery is when you want to increase investment. This is where we have these discoveries, and if we don’t turn those discoveries into better cures, then we’ll have failed a generation. And in order to do that, you actually want to increase your investment in childhood cancer research.”
The Cancer Letter is a weekly newsletter providing the latest on cancer research funding, legislation, policy issues, drug development, and people in the news. More details are available on The Cancer Letter’s website, which also has available a recording of Dr. Adamson’s interview.