Conquering Cancer: Q&A with Friends of Cancer Research

Conquering Cancer: Q&A with Friends of Cancer Research

06.08.12 | By Preet Bilinski

Friends of Cancer Research

Today we have a Q&A with Ryan M. Hohman, JD, MPA, Director, Communications & Policy at Friends of Cancer Research (Friends), a patient advocacy organization and think tank based in Washington, DC.

  • As a leader in bringing together unique partnerships among researchers, patients and Congress, what are some ways Friends is working to ensure treatments and therapies are reaching patients in the safest and quickest way possible?

Friends of Cancer Research believes that without all sectors working together we will never conquer terrible diseases like cancer. We have been very successful in developing groundbreaking partnerships and creating a more open dialogue among both public and private sectors. By working to bridge cultural, political and communications gaps between all sectors that play a part in conquering cancer, we have been able to work toward significant changes for patients.

One recent example of multi-sector collaboration is the House and Senate passage of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) reauthorization legislation. Leaders from industry, government, and patient advocacy came together, and engaged in a very constructive dialogue on the reauthorization of this vital legislation that will help ensure new, innovative treatments are made available for the patients who desperately need them.

  • As Congress focuses on reducing the nation's healthcare costs, why is it important that we continue to invest in research?

In the past several decades, medical research has resulted in significant breakthroughs for disease areas from heart disease and diabetes to HIV/AIDS. With these advances, life expectancies have risen and given way to an increase in diseases associated with age, such as some cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. By continuing to invest in research, we are not only investing in the health of the nation, but in the country's economic health as well. Biomedical research has one of the highest returns on investment, with a return of about $2 on every $1 spent.

In the past 20 to 30 years, cancer research has shifted from thinking of cancer as one disease to understanding that it is comprised of hundreds of different diseases. Additionally, thanks to groundbreaking research at our nation's pharmaceutical and biotech companies and academic medical centers, we now understand how certain genetic markers can indicate a person's ability to respond to certain treatments. This development of more "personalized" medicine is allowing for new targeted treatments to be developed that are beginning to really show great hope and promise for patients. The more we know about why certain treatments work for certain patients and why they do not for others, the more targeted and effective our healthcare dollars can be.

  • How can advancements in new treatments and therapies bring down healthcare costs and improve the lives of Americans suffering from various forms of cancer?

New treatments, particularly targeted therapies, can have the benefit of treating specific patients whose tumor makeup indicates they are more likely to respond to that treatment. This saves costs and improves quality of life for the patient by starting with the best treatment option from the onset instead of having to work through other less-effective treatments and the potential side effects and additional physician visits that go along with them. Looking at this from a long-term perspective, this could reduce costs for doctors, patients with private insurance, and the Medicare and Medicaid programs since they are not paying for ineffective therapies or additional associated costs.

  • What are some of the challenges facing the cancer community in ensuring continued focus and funding for research into improved treatments and therapies?

The main challenge to ensuring stability and focus for research funding is being able to communicate the need for translational science and research. While many people see the beginning - discoveries - and the result - a marketable treatment for patients - many promising drugs are lost in the pipeline from bench to bedside. Continued funding for research will help develop the tools necessary to make sure these treatments are ultimately available to the patients that need them. Additionally, potential decreases in federal funding as the result of sequestration poses a great threat for the future of research grants and the next generation of scientists. If the cuts take effect in January of 2013, over 2,000 grants will be cut from an already shrinking grant program. That environment is not encouraging or welcoming to new scientists or researchers who bring in fresh perspectives and knowledge of the most up-to-date technology and methods.

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