At big cancer meeting, a big question: Is the U.S. ‘losing its edge’?

By LIZ SZABO — KAISER HEALTH NEWS | JUNE 2, 2017 | See Original Here

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Less and less of the research presented at a prominent cancer conference is supported by the National Institutes of Health, a development that some of the country’s top scientists see as a worrisome trend.

The number of studies fully funded by the NIH at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) — the world’s largest gathering of cancer researchers — has fallen 75 percent in the past decade, from 575 papers in 2008 to 144 this year, according to the society, which meets Friday through Tuesday in Chicago.

American researchers typically dominate the meeting’s press conferences — designed to feature the most important and newsworthy research. This year, there are 14 studies led by international scientists versus 12 led by U.S.-based teams. That’s a big shift from just five years ago, when 15 studies in the “press program” were led by Americans versus 9 by international researchers.

Several of the studies on this weekend’s press program come from Europe and Canada, along with two from China.

President Donald Trump has proposed cutting the NIH budget for 2018 from $31.8 billion to $26 billion, a decline that many worry would jeopardize the fight against cancer and other diseases. Those cuts include $1 billion less for the National Cancer Institute.

On its website, the NCI notes that its purchasing power already has declined by 25 percent since 2003, because its budget — while growing — hasn’t kept up with inflation. Congress gave the NCI nearly $5.4 billion in the current fiscal year, an increase of $174.6 million over last year. The NCI also received $300 million for the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot through the 21st Century Cures Act passed in December.

“America may be losing its edge in medical research,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society. The brightest young scientists are having trouble finding funding for their research, leading them to look for jobs not at universities but at drug companies “or even Wall Street,” he said. “I fear we are losing a generation of young, talented biomedical scientists.”