NCI Cooperative Groups Celebrate 50th Anniversary on Capitol Hill
Representatives from ASCO and the Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups (CCCG) hosted a September 19 congressional briefing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of NCI's Clinical Trials Cooperative Group Program. Research leaders from the two groups used it as an opportunity to highlight the tremendous advances in cancer research achieved by the cooperative groups, and to stress the need to maintain federal funding and support.
Since its founding in the mid-1950s, the Cooperative Group Program has completed more than 4,000 clinical trials and treated more than 500,000 patients. The program currently involves more than 1,700 institutions that contribute patients to group-conducted clinical trials. Cooperative groups place more than 25,000 new patients into cancer treatment clinical trials each year.
"Clinical trials are the vital link between laboratory discoveries and improved patient outcomes," explained Dr. Joseph Bailes, ASCO's CEO and interim executive vice president. "The cooperative groups' research through these clinical trials has brought improved outcomes to millions of people with cancer."
Dr. Bailes and CCCG President Dr. Robert Comis noted examples where research led by the cooperative trial groups has contributed to long-term survival and cures for the majority of pediatric cancers; proven that breast-conserving lumpectomy is often a better surgical option than radical mastectomy; developed paclitaxel as a premier treatment for ovarian and metastatic non-small-cell lung cancers; and defined the role of targeted therapies, such as trastuzimab and bevacizumab, in the major solid tumors.
"A significant portion of the cooperative groups' budgets - about $150 million per year - comes from NCI," Dr. Comis explained. "Unfortunately, declining funding has caused the institute to decrease cooperative group funding over the past 2 years, and we cannot hope to continue to provide the types of treatment advances that help people with cancer unless we reverse the trend of decreasing NCI funding."
When a congressional aide asked about the impact of the doubling of the NIH budget in previous years, Dr. Comis expressed appreciation for Congress' support, but noted that cooperative group funding is currently at the same level as in 2001. NCI funding has never covered the entire cost for each enrollee in a trial, he explained, so a lot of cooperative group efforts are on a volunteer basis, which is becoming harder to sustain, particularly among community-based clinicians and hospitals.Dr. Norman Wolmark, chair of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project Cooperative Group, said, "The Cooperative Groups received a $3 million decrease in 2006 compared to the previous year, and the projected decrease for next fiscal year is in the range of 10 to 15 percent. We really are at a crossroads and a crisis." For example, he added, the initiation of promising follow-up research on chemopreventive agents for breast cancer is in serious question due to the current budget uncertainties.