The Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 budget allocates $20 million to FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence, a pleasant surprise for Friends of Cancer Research (Friends), the organization that has been involved with OCE from its inception. Despite the proposed budget boost for the center, cancer patient advocacy groups are still concerned with overall cuts to the HHS budget specifically aimed at research.
The budget, released Monday (Feb. 12), requests $3.6 billion at the program level for medical product safety investments at FDA, which includes $20 million for OCE.
OCE was formally launched in January 2017 but has since struggled to gain much-needed funding that lawmakers, advocates and agency heads have argued the center was supposed to receive through the Cancer Moonshot section of the 21st Century Cures Act.
“The arrangement between NIH, the White House and the department and the FDA is actually that $75 million would be transferred to the Moonshot — $15 million a year over five years. That has always been the intent. Unfortunately the language in the Cures bill made it very complicated … so the Moonshot money stayed in NIH,” Ellen Sigal, chair and founder of Friends, explained to Inside Health Policy in June 2017.
Friends’ Ryan Hohman told IHP the $20 million in the fiscal 2019 budget is a positive surprise that could perhaps serve as a signal from the White House to Congress that OCE is a vital part of furthering cancer research.
“Hopefully this push by the president means this Congress will take action to fully fund this center that is important for cancer patients and will serve as an incredible pilot [for future disease centers],” Hohman said.
Hohman commended FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and OCE Director Richard Pazdur for their leadership and advocacy on behalf of OCE in conjunction with work from the advocacy community “to rise this issue to the level that the White House is paying attention to it to particularly call it out in this HHS budget.”
While it is not clear what the $20 million would directly fund, Hohman explained that, since OCE did not receive funding in 2017 as it was supposed to, perhaps this is a way of trying to catch up.
“Perhaps you’re seeing in that $20 million number an acknowledgment of that … trying to get [OCE] to the level it needs to be at,” he said, adding, “That’s only an assumption.”
Despite positive news for OCE, Friends and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) remain concerned with proposed cuts to HHS overall, especially at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“This welcome news of enhancing FDA comes with caution about worrisome cuts to other agencies at HHS. Increases to the FDA and NIH are vital for our nation’s health and well-being — we must not cut many of the vital research programs and those that patients rely on for access, prevention, and treatment,” Sigal wrote in a press release on Monday.
According to ACS CAN, the budget cuts at least $1 billion for medical research at NIH, and reduces funding and eliminates cancer screening and prevention programs at CDC. The group urges Congress to reject the cuts and make cancer research a priority.
“Budget constraints understandably require the president and Congress to identify the most pressing national priorities. With cancer expected to kill nearly 610,000 people in the United States this year, certainly funding for research and prevention that hold the promise of eliminating death and suffering from this disease should rise to the top of the list. We call on Congress to reject these proposed cuts and prioritize cancer research and prevention funding as well as access to affordable, meaningful health coverage, to bring hope to more than 1.7 million Americans expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year,” ACS CAN wrote in a press statement.