After the Bill: Passionate advocacy continues to yield results following the passage of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act
When the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act was signed into law in January 2013, it was the culmination of five years of effort by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s passionate advocates and volunteers—who sent 76,000 emails, made 14,000 calls to Congress and participated in 1,500 meetings. On Sunday, March 2, the pancreatic cancer community saw another important development in the fight: The National Cancer Institute (NCI), under the leadership of Harold E. Varmus, MD, released a report entitled “Scientific Framework for Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma,” outlining recommendations for moving forward on four specific pancreatic cancer research initiatives.
The Four Recommendations
The report is a “scientific framework” (similar to a strategic plan) for advancing research into pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, which accounts for approximately 95 percent of all pancreatic cancer cases. It builds on another NCI report released in June 2013 describing four recommended initiatives for pancreatic cancer research developed by a working group of the NCI and other scientific experts, including the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Vice President of Research and Medical Affairs, Lynn Matrisian.
The new report highlights the same four recommended research initiatives and provides a specific recommendation for moving forward for each:
- Understanding the biological relationship between pancreatic cancer and diabetes
The NCI and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, together with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, sponsored a joint meeting in June 2013 that explored the links between diabetes, pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer as an initial step toward this initiative. The new report indicates that there may be a new federal funding opportunity announcement for expanding research in this area.
- Evaluating screening protocols for biomarkers for early detection of pancreatic cancer and its precursors
The report indicates that the NCI will issue a Program Announcement in the next 12 months to focus on the development of novel methods to obtain and interrogate pancreatic tissues containing pre-cancerous lesions. The NCI typically uses Program Announcements when they are interested in receiving grant proposals in a specific area, but there are no funds that are set aside for this purpose. This highlights the need for us to continue to push for increased funding for the NCI.
- Studying new therapeutic strategies in immunotherapy
The report states that the Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network (CITN), which employs the collective expertise of expert academic immunologists together with the NCI and foundation and industry partners, will design and conduct cancer therapy trials with the most promising immunotherapy agents in pancreatic cancer.
- Developing new treatment approaches that interfere with RAS oncogene-dependent signaling pathways
The report describes a recently announced major initiative to develop drugs that target KRAS, a gene that is mutated in the vast majority of pancreatic cancer cases. The project is being led by Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS, a member of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Scientific Advisory Board, and involves scientists from the NCI and many academic institutions.
You can read the full NCI report here.
The Work Ahead
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network will play a key role in advancing the report’s agenda.
“We applaud the National Cancer Institute and Dr. Varmus for their work on this crucial report, which addresses questions that are critical to advancing research and improving pancreatic cancer patient outcomes,” said Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in a press statement released on March 3. “We look forward to working with the NCI and our colleagues in the pancreatic cancer community on implementing the recommendations and developing benchmarks to measure progress on achieving the recommendations and on critical issues like ensuring adequate availability of qualified researchers.”
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has for many years advocated for a national strategic plan and accountability for making progress toward improving the survival rate for pancreatic cancer. The new report, according to Ms. Fleshman, is “a win for the entire pancreatic cancer community.”
Never Give Up
The way forward is clear: The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and its supporters need to continue the momentum built during the push to pass the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act. If the full impact of this newly released—and highly promising—report is to be realized, members of the pancreatic cancer community must work to ensure that the NCI has the resources it needs to turn recommendations into reality.
You can help influence the future by making your voice heard in two ways:
- As Congress sets its budget priorities in the next few months, members of Congress will be in the position to make the NCI a top priority. You can help ensure they do by continuing to tell your stories of how pancreatic cancer has touched your life and making sure that pancreatic cancer stays top of mind for members of Congress. Send a letter to your representative by clicking here.
- Participate with hundreds of others like you who want to make a better future for those with pancreatic cancer by participating in the eighth annual Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day, HOPE ON THE HILL, on June 16-17 in Washington, DC. Register now, and keep pancreatic cancer front and center in Congress.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network will also continue to ensure that its efforts are aligned with and build on the NCI’s efforts. The organization’s research and scientific affairs program, including its grants program, are aligned with the NCI’s focus and recommendations. There is much work to be done ahead and much reason for hope when the NCI, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the entire pancreatic cancer community are aligned in action.