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Politico — Beating cancer used to be bipartisan. What happened?

Politico — Beating cancer used to be bipartisan. What happened?

President Joe Biden is scrambling to fund his cancer moonshot and its ambitious goal of cutting the death rate by half — an aim close to his heart that’s no longer a bipartisan priority.

Lawmakers backed the initiative during the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency, passing the 21st Century Cures Act, and allotting $1.8 billion to the cause, nearly unanimously. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it “the most significant legislation passed by this Congress.”

But times have changed. The spending package Congress passed in March doesn’t reup Cures moonshot money that dried up at the end of last year. Lawmakers rejected Biden’s request to fund Cures this year and also cut off his moonshot’s most direct funding stream.

And while experts said Biden’s request for mandatory moonshot funding in his 2025 is unlikely to materialize, the White House is optimistic.

“We still believe that that’s possible,” Carnival said. “We still think that there is a way to get continued bipartisan support.”

And Congress did give the National Cancer Institute, an arm of NIH, a $120 million boost this year. That came “despite very tough budget constraints imposed by Republicans,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the chair of the Appropriations panel with control over the funding, told POLITICO in a statement.

But cancer research advocates argue that even that boost is effectively a cut, due to inflation, rising research costs and salary raises for federal workers.

Without the budget increases NIH is accustomed to, the agency will be forced to cut funding for promising clinical trials of new drugs, they said.

“That’s what happens when there is a stall in research or when research dollars don’t catch up with the pace of inflation,” the American Cancer Society’s Knudsen said. “There’s a direct impact on cancer patients through clinical trials and then an indirect impact through the scientific enterprise being stopped or slowed.”

Given the stakes, advocates and lobbyists are regrouping to fight for a robust 2025 NIH budget, which lawmakers are already beginning to consider.

Concern hung over the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting in San Diego this month, where Retzlaff and his allies in the cancer research community strategized about how to get Congress to invest in NIH next year.

During the 2013 budget cuts that resulted from spending wars between Obama and the Republican-controlled House, AACR mobilized a ten thousand person rally for medical research.

“Something dramatic may be necessary” again, Retzlaff said.

Megan Wilson contributed to this report.