Cancer research is at serious risk if President Obama and Congress fail to prevent steep automatic cuts in federal spending scheduled to kick in March 1, Buffalo officials warned Monday.
If Congress doesn’t prevent a budget process known as sequestration, which was created by Congress in 2011 to force the government to address the federal budget deficit, spending on the National Institutes of Health would drop by more than $2.5 billion to about $28.3 billion, according to reports.
The National Cancer Institute, a part of NIH, would see its funding cut by about $1.5 billion, or 5.1 percent, including more than $250 million in cuts for cancer research, a report by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network shows.
The impact on institutions such as Roswell Park Cancer Institute could be huge. In 2012, the cancer center received more than $60 million in direct and indirect NIH or NCI funding. A steep drop would slow progress in cancer treatment and cost jobs, officials said.
“The impact will be damaging immediately and imperil the next generation of cancer researchers,” Dr. Donald Trump, president and chief executive officer of the cancer center, said Monday.
He was joined by Hillary Clarke, director of federal government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo; and Averl Anderson, a Cheektowaga woman who was successfully treated for breast cancer at Roswell Park with a drug in a clinical trial.
Clarke characterized sequestration as a “mindless” cut in funding and, citing the report from the Cancer Action Network on the medical and economic benefits of cancer research, said an investment in research was an important driver of the national and local economies.
The NIH budget has remained essentially flat over the past decade, according to the American Association for Cancer Research, a trend that could slow the progress of new discoveries.
Trump and others cited the hundreds of jobs in Buffalo tied to federal research funding. Trump also talked about the six companies that have developed in Buffalo out of Roswell Park as a result of research there.
“Cancer research is good medicine and good economics,” he said.
It’s unclear what will happen in Washington.
Obama, saying the cuts under sequestration would damage the economy, has asked Congress for a short-term deficit-reduction package of spending cuts and tax revenue that would delay the automatic cuts scheduled to take effect at the beginning of next month.
However, some congressional Republicans have suggested that they see automatic cuts as the only way of achieving deficit reduction, even though the cuts would hit programs they support, such as defense.
“Most economists believe sequestration means the economy will go back into recession,” Higgins said.
As for the impact on cancer research, Higgins noted that health-related funding needs to be consistent to be effective because treatment discoveries occur in stages over long periods of time.
“My hope is that Congress will see the wisdom of doing robust investment in cancer research and won’t cut back. We’ve always led as a nation in this area. It is essential,” he said.