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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Cancer Research Budgets in Crisis – Will Defendants, and Insurers Invest in Young Scientists I

With cancer increasing and more cancer litigation arriving daily, one might hope for an increase in funding for cancer research in order to find cures which would reduce litigation and damages claims. But, in fact, cancer research budgets continue to stall, and thus are actually decreasing because of inflation. The facts are that the funding has been held flat for the National Institutes of Health for the past decade (that is, most of the Bush II administration and the Great Recession years). As a result, the American Association for Cancer Research opened its annual meeting in Chicago this week by declaring a funding emergency. Obviously the association has a vested interest in funding. That said, the realities of inflation make it plain that in fact research budgets are effectively being cut because they’ve been held flat for a decade.

Insurers, toxic tort defendants and asbestos trusts should make their own requests for more support for more research, and should provide research funding. Consider, for example, that life sciences researchers are in general far cheaper to hire than lawyers, and certainly less expensive than the thousands of “big law” lawyers now working on mass tort cases involving cancer. For example , consider the salaries of postdocs – researchers who have obtained a PhD, and are starting out in the professional world. According to the 2010 Life Science Salary Survey by The Scientist, as of November 2010: “Almost all professional levels in the life sciences are feeling the strain of the current financial situation, but there is one demographic group that always feels it – postdoctoral fellows. Currently, postdocs receiving federal awards make between $37,740 to $52,068 a year, depending on a fellow’s level of experience.” Full data from the study is online here. In contrast, as of 2010, new lawyers at AmLaw firms were starting at $145-160,000 per year.

Set out below is the text of AACR’s April 1, 2012 press release – it’s no joke:

CHICAGO — Leaders from the American Association for Cancer Research, which today opened its AACR Annual Meeting 2012 here, declared that the ability of cancer researchers to bring the promise of science to improve the outcomes for cancer patients is in peril due to a decade of declining budgets at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“For the past decade the NIH budget has remained essentially flat, and when factoring in the rate of biomedical inflation, the agency has lost approximately $6 billion in purchasing power or nearly 20 percent. As a result, the chances that a researcher will be awarded a NIH grant to uncover scientific knowledge and pursue lifesaving treatments have reached all-time lows. At the same time, the number of opportunities for turning our growing scientific knowledge against cancer has never been greater.

“As a practicing breast oncologist, I have personally observed the truly remarkable and explosive progress in cancer research, and the acceleration of that progress to benefit patients,” said AACR President Judy E. Garber, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Early in my career, I had patients die from HER2 positive breast cancer. Due to advances in cancer research, these individuals can often now be cured of their disease. This an example of the unparalleled opportunities that come from taking basic discoveries to the clinic and which are now under unprecedented threat from reduced funding for cancer research and biomedical science.”  

Therefore, the AACR announced this morning that it plans to redouble its efforts to engage with Congress to make research funding a higher national priority, raise public awareness of the importance of continued investment in cancer research, and call on its 34,000 members and broader advocacy community constituencies to join together to help better explain and illustrate the value of cancer research and biomedical science to the economic health and well-being of this nation.

“We already see the effects on our most precious resource, young investigators,” said Garber. “This is potentially disastrous, as we are relying on them to ensure the continuing pipeline of new discoveries that will have ever greater impact on the welfare of patients and the public health.”


About the AACR

Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the world’s first and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and its mission to prevent and cure cancer. AACR’s membership includes 34,000 laboratory, translational and clinical researchers; population scientists; other health care professionals; and cancer advocates residing in more than 90 countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise of the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, biology, diagnosis and treatment of cancer by annually convening more than 20 conferences and educational workshops, the largest of which is the AACR Annual Meeting with more than 18,000 attendees. In addition, the AACR publishes seven peer-reviewed scientific journals and a magazine for cancer survivors, patients and their caregivers. The AACR funds meritorious research directly as well as in cooperation with numerous cancer organizations. As the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, the AACR provides expert peer review, grants administration and scientific oversight of individual and team science grants in cancer research that have the potential for patient benefit. The AACR actively communicates with legislators and policymakers about the value of cancer research and related biomedical science in saving lives from cancer.  

For more information about the AACR, visit 

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