Setting a New Path for Cancer Research
On December 23, 2003, the cancer research field marked the 32nd anniversary of the start of our Nation's war on cancer. On that date in 1971, President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act into law. We knew little at the time about the biology of cancer and had few tools to effectively prevent or treat the disease, but this law committed our will and resources to the goal of eliminating cancer and entrusted leadership of this effort to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The age of molecular biology was dawning, enabling scientists to gain greater insights into the fundamental processes of both normal and cancerous cells. And the challenge to eliminate cancer inspired many of our Nation's best and brightest to devote their energy and talent to eliminating the disease. Over three decades we have made great progress.
The union of talent, scientific discovery, and advanced technology continues to expand our knowledge of the factors that increase cancer risk and of the processes within the cell that are disrupted in cancer's onset and progression. Our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer has led to more effective prevention strategies, the development of improved tests for early detection, more precise diagnostic methods, and more powerful treatment approaches.
Many of these advances are reflected in the growth of cancer survivorship - from 3 million survivors in 1971 to 10 million today - and in continuing declines in the death rates from the most common cancers - lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal. And now we look to the future.
Today, we again are entering a new period in cancer research; we are once again setting a new goal for the cancer research field. Rather than working toward eliminating cancer, we have established a more immediate and achievable goal: eliminating the suffering and death caused by cancer.
I have publicly issued a challenge to the cancer community to achieve this goal by 2015. Our chief strategy is pre-emption. We will strive to prevent the onset as well as the progression of cancer, identify cancers at the earliest stage, eliminate cancer through targeted treatments, and biologically control cancers that we cannot eliminate so they become manageable, chronic diseases. This future is feasible because of the feats of the past.
And NCI will continue to lead the cancer community's efforts toward this goal. We must rely on effective collaborations throughout our diverse community. These partnerships nurture an integrated approach to fighting cancer and ensure that research discoveries are translated into clinical and public health interventions that can be delivered to all who need them. Our longstanding collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for delivery will continue and one of our most exciting new partnerships brings together NCI and the Food and Drug Administration to improve development of interventions. As sister agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we are committed to working together to remove bottlenecks in the process of developing and approving safe, more effective new cancer interventions.
NCI also must work toward developing and fully integrating technologies. To do so, we must encourage collaboration among experts in a range of professional disciplines. We also must develop and exploit emerging technologies more fully and apply them to our efforts in genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, systems biology, population sciences, and the development of effective anticancer agents.
Last summer, I announced the creation of the National Advanced Biomedical Technologies Initiative for Cancer; the announcement can be read at http://cancer.gov/directorscorner/directorsupdate-09-09-2003. The National Cancer Advisory Board has commissioned an ad hoc subcommittee - led by Drs. Eric Lander and Lee Hartwell - to advise NCI's senior leadership about how this initiative should be formulated to best serve the needs of the research community. At present, the committee is putting together working groups focusing on characterization of cancer in the cell; diagnosis of cancer in the organism; cancer therapeutics; public health; and organizing technology access, development, and dissemination.
Finally, we must facilitate integration of discovery activities; accelerate development of new tools, technologies, and interventions; and ensure the delivery of interventions. In 2003, the NCI leadership team and I have worked to determine how NCI can help remove barriers that are impeding advancement; create greater links among discovery, development, and delivery; and speed our progress toward the 2015 goal. We've determined that, in addition to our current programs, NCI should expand initiatives in 2004 in seven strategic priority areas: molecular epidemiology; integrated cancer biology; strategic development of cancer interventions; prevention, early detection, and prediction; an integrated clinical trials system; overcoming health disparities; and bioinformatics.
With this Director's Update, we are launching our new NCI Cancer Bulletin. In each issue, the Bulletin will report on important new initiatives, the latest grant and contracting opportunities, important research advances, and NCI clinical trials. A section titled "NCI Notes" will offer information on new resources and staffing changes. "Special Reports" will focus on NCI's seven strategic priority areas and other important ventures. Legislative and budget columns will provide up-to-date reports. A meeting calendar will feature selected scientific meetings sponsored by NCI and others. And my Director's Updates will be a regular feature. This new publication will provide the cancer community with a window into NCI's activities as we continue our journey toward the 2015 goal.
Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D.