Senator McCain wants to cut funding for prostate cancer research by $80 million

Senator John McCain is a man who has been treated successfully not once, not twice, but three times for malignant melanoma. You would think he would have some sympathy with the idea that cancer research needs to be well funded — even in difficult economic times. Apparently that is not his opinion.

In comments yesterday on the floor of the Senate, during discussions about the Continuing Resolutions Act, he spoke as follows:

The aspects of the Defense Appropriations bill that need to be taken away, eliminated, are $300 million for medical research. I am sure the medical research is important, but it has nothing to do with national defense. Within that $300 million is $15 million for peer-reviewed Alzheimer’s research, $150 million for peer-reviewed breast cancer research, $12.8 million for peer-reviewed lung cancer research, $20 million for peer-reviewed ovarian cancer research, $80 million for peer-reviewed prostate cancer research, and … — all of which are worthy causes, but none have anything to do with defending this country. If they want them to be funded — and they deserve to be in many respects — they should come out of the Health and Human Services Appropriations, not out of Defense.

Now we would like to be very clear that if the cancer research initiatives currently funded through the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) could be in some way transferred to the National Cancer Institute, and if they could continue to be funded and implemented in the way that they currently are, we would have no problem with the good senator’s suggestions.

Unfortunately, however, that is by no means what he is suggesting. What he is suggesting is that we simply cut the programs out of the DoD budget in their entirety and then start again by trying to get them refunded through the Department of Health and Human Services — which is a complete non-starter.

The loss of the Prostate Cancer Research Program of the CDMRP would be a disaster for the prostate cancer community. This program has been at the very heart of bringing us more knowledge and more new drugs for late stage prostate cancer than any other research funding initiative over the past decade. It is the single largest source of government research dollars specifically dedicated to prostate cancer.

In the grand scheme of the DoD budget, $300 million a year is peanuts, as Senator McCain well knows. Earlier this year, Secretary Gates laid out a plan to reduce the DoD budget by $78 billion over the next 5 years. We are also spending massive amounts of money on initiatives in Afghanistan and Iraq for which Senator McCain has been a key “booster” in Congress. Secretary Gates never made any suggestion that cutting the CDMRP even entered his radar screen by comparison with all of the other cuts that he was more than willing to make.

Earlier today some of us heard Samuel Ward (“Trip”) Casscells, III, MD, a former assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and a member of the Board of Directors of the Prostate Cancer Foundation tell us in no uncertain terms (a) why the CDMRP was a key military mission that supported our soldiers and (b) why the Prostate Cancer Research Program needed our full support. Now it is true that Trip is potentially biased, since he is a prostate cancer patient himself, but he also pointed out that some of our most reknowned military leaders of the past few years (General Norman Schwarzkopf, General Colin Powell, and the currently still serving General David Petraeus) are also all prostate cancer survivors.

Trip Casscells is undoubtedly going to be calling his acquaintances in Congress. And if you want us to be able to maintain the continuing level of progress against prostate cancer that we have achieved over the past 5 years, you need to call your Congressmen and Congresswomen too. They need to get a very clear message from every prostate cancer patient, advocate, and researcher:

Do not, under any circumstances, eliminate funding for the DoD Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program or its key prostate cancer initiatives funded through the Prostate Cancer Research Program.

It’s a simple enough message, so pick up your phone and make three calls: one to your representative in the House of Representatives and another two to each of your representatives in the Senate. And if you want to throw in a fourth call to the office of Senator McCain, his number is 202-224-2235. Ask for his health policy staff member.

7 Responses

  1. Great article on the need to contact our reps regarding Sen. McCain’s proposal to cut $300 million cancer health-related funds from the DOD budget. May I have your permission to share your article (in your name) at my website –

  2. Sure Rabbi Ed. No problem.

  3. I am a Vietnam vet, with Agent Orange-related prostate cancer, and fully respect John McCain’s service and his lengthy POW time. That having been said, it completely stuns me that these politicians would cause harm to cancer research programs rather than terminate foreign aid. I have yet to see ANY cutbacks in Congressional spending, salaries, etc. He is out of touch with reality.

  4. I made the calls. Senator McCain’s voice mail greeting mentioned an e-mail address as an alternative to leaving a message. I’ve heard that e-mail is widely ignored due to volume and susceptibility to automatic generation. Any thoughts on e-mailing?

  5. Dear Dave:

    It doesn’t hurt to send a follow-up e-mail after you make the call that also confirms whatever comments you made on the call and that says you have already made the call. Emphasis is good!

  6. What can Sen McCain be thinking? Where is there a downside to funding prostate cancer research? It saves lives, maintains the workforce, stimulates the economy.

  7. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to preserve the prostate cancer research performed under the auspices of the CDMRP’s Prostate Cancer Research Program, but there is another critical reason to keep them under the DoD: it helps them escape from the dulling blinders of conventional wisdom! Sure, the other arms of the Federal cancer research establishment are doing fine work, but it is by design incremental and cautious in nature, a slow building of a firm foundation of knowledge using tried and true resources.

    However, these are not the research guys and gals who are likely to think way outside the box and come up with paradigm busting solutions. They generally operate, with welcome exceptions, within their research community of shared beliefs and assumptions. In sharp contrast, the DoD’s CDMRP is designed to go after “high risk/high reward” solutions, solutions that are outside the bounds of what is considered possible within conventional parameters. In fact, innovation is a key criterion for much of the CDMRP’s research, and proposals are rejected if they build too closely on existing work.

    This is why it would be most unwise to bring this literally vital work within the bounds of our conventional research system. In short, innovation would be stifled.

    It helps our cause greatly that the PCRP just concluded its 2011 IMPaCT conference (“Innovative Minds in Prostate Cancer Today) last week, and a striking number of impressive medical advances from the program were described. That includes denosumab, now FDA approved, abiraterone on the verge of FDA approval, and at least a half dozen more drugs in Phase III trials and looking good. It also includes establishment of the Prostate Cancer Clinical Trials Consortium, a marvelous pipeline for research that expedited the trial of abiraterone in a stunning 5 years.

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