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Arteaga, AACR push for cancer research funding

Jul. 9, 2015, 9:28 AM

Carlos L. Arteaga, M.D., director of the Center for Cancer Targeted Therapies and director of the Breast Cancer Program at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC), recently joined other cancer research leaders in a meeting with members of Congress to discuss precision medicine in cancer and the need for continued federal support for cancer research.

The June 17 visit to Capitol Hill was spearheaded by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the Fellows of the AACR Academy to stimulate additional support for President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative.

Carlos L. Argeaga, M.D., recently visited the nation’s capitol to speak on precision medicine and cancer research funding. (Vera LaMarche/AACR)

The briefing with AACR and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California), titled “Saving Lives in the New Era of Precision Medicine,” drew a large crowd in the Congressional hearing room. Arteaga, immediate past president of AACR, introduced and served as moderator for the event.

In cancer care, precision medicine often starts with gene sequencing of a patient’s tumor and the information obtained from the tests is used to match the patient to the right therapy.

“I discussed the growth of precision medicine and how we got here. It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t luck. It was hard work by a lot of people, the ingenuity of a lot of colleagues and support from the government that got us here,” said Arteaga, the Donna S. Hall Professor of Breast Cancer and also associate director for Clinical Research at VICC.

Current AACR president José Baselga, M.D., Ph.D., warned that many promising young cancer investigators are choosing to leave the field because of cuts in federal research funding in recent years.

Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., pointed out that federal funding supported her research that resulted in the discovery of telomerase, an enzyme that plays a role in cell senescence and is implicated in the initial development of cancer cells. For this discovery, Blackburn was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2009.

Jo Handelsman, Ph.D., associate director of Science for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, discussed the economic implications of federal research funding, which supports job opportunities and boosts the nation’s economy.

Arteaga thanked Congress for previous funding efforts … “but also highlighted the fact that we could be missing out by not having enough resources and enough support for the FDA because the FDA is being inundated with requests for breakthrough therapies. Without enough support they won’t be able to keep up with the pace of drug development, which is very intense, very fast.”

Arteaga also met with Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and was encouraged by the response from political leaders in Washington, D.C.

“There is huge interest in the community at large for making precision medicine work. The quality of the questions left me with the sense that this is something we all have embraced and, although funding is not optimal, my sense is there is a shift. I see the beginning of a change in the climate of support for cancer research,” Arteaga said.

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