by Jessica Barker, Director of Government Affairs, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation
Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on cancer research featuring Dr. Harold Varmus, Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and actress Valerie Harper, a survivor of Leptomeningeal carcinomatosis (LC), a rare complication of cancer in the brain. This was the first Congressional hearing with a dedicated focus on cancer in six years. The hearing, titled The Fight Against Cancer: Challenges, Progress, and Promise examined federal funding for cancer research and recent treatment improvements, and explored challenges facing survivors and scientists.
The hearing gave each of the five witnesses the opportunity to give testimony, which was followed by questions from the Members of the Committee. The witnesses included:
- Harold E. Varmus, MD, Director, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health
- Valerie Harper, Actress and Cancer Survivor
- Thomas Sellers, PhD, MPH, Director, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute
- Mary Dempsey, Assistant Director and Co-Founder, The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing
- Chip Kennett, Advocate and Cancer Survivor
Each witness gave a powerful opening statement. Valerie Harper urged Members of Congress to think of cancer research dollars as an investment rather than spending. Ms. Harper also voiced a hopeful message for cancer patients, as she is positive and living life to the fullest despite her prognosis, stating “I am not going to the funeral until the day of the funeral!”
While not mentioned in his testimony, Dr. Varmus was asked by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) about the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP). The CDMRP has been a great source of funding for mesothelioma, funding $9.3 million to date. Asked if the DoD and the NCI collaborated, Dr. Varmus emphasized that all of the federal agencies that do medical research, as well as all researchers around the country share their research through scientific meetings (such as the Meso Foundation’s Symposium) and through journals. When specifically asked if he thought the program should be in the DoD or under the umbrella of the National Institutes of Health (which houses the NCI), he stated that he does not have a problem with the CDMRP being housed at the DoD and that he welcomes co-funding.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D- RI) asked Dr. Varmus about the Recalcitrant Cancer Act of 2012 and its progress. Dr. Varmus told the committee that he had completed the scientific framework for pancreatic cancer, and that he would be completing the scientific framework for small cell lung cancer by the statutory deadline of July 2014. This is good news for the mesothelioma community.
To view the hearing, please visit the Senate Special Committee on Aging website.