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Director’s Message: Leading Progress against Cancer

Woman (NCI Director Dr. Monica Bertagnolli) with dark hair wears a brown jacket over a patterned top and smiles at the camera.

Dr. Monica Bertagnolli

Cancer is one of the greatest health challenges we face. It remains the number two killer in the United States, with nearly two million new cases of cancer diagnosed each year. Today, there are more than 18 million cancer survivors, and as each family affected by cancer knows, the disease often touches every aspect of a patient’s life. For so many people with cancer, that means treatments that can be as toxic as the disease. Many others have limited treatment options or face significant societal barriers to care.

Yet the future holds great potential for preventing cancer or changing the meaning of a cancer diagnosis for an individual, their family, and their community. President Biden has set forth ambitious goals to end cancer as we know it for all people through the Cancer Moonshot℠. By aiming to decrease the overall cancer death rate at least 50% by 2047 and improving cancer care for everyone, that vision is within reach.

To succeed, we must accelerate progress for the most common cancers and confront those for which significant headway remains elusive, such as pancreatic cancer, glioblastoma, and certain childhood cancers. Moreover, we must eliminate inequities that contribute to worse outcomes for certain populations, especially Black Americans, people living in rural communities, and others who have not benefited from the progress made against cancer.

This year, in partnership with organizations across the cancer community, NCI released a National Cancer Plan as a framework to accelerate progress. This rallying cry for action challenges everyone to find new strategies that leverage existing solutions to reach all people, while investing in research to identify, develop, and implement new approaches to prevent, detect, and treat cancer early, and turn all cancers into treatable diseases.

NCI employs an important strategy to make it easier for people to participate in cancer research: bringing clinical trials to where people live through the NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP). Kellie’s story, featured in this Fiscal Year 2025 Professional Judgment Budget Proposal, is emblematic of this strategy. Kellie, who was diagnosed with stage III non-small cell lung cancer, lives in a small town, hours away from major cancer centers. Thanks to NCORP, she receives treatment and contributes to research through a clinical trial close to home, without the hardship of long-distance travel. When cancer research has the resources to eliminate obstacles that hinder people’s participation, we can find solutions that work for all who need them.

NCI, the largest funder of cancer research in the world, is the engine that drives progress. Institutions across the cancer research community—such as the 72 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers, 2,200 National Clinical Trials Network sites, and 46 NCORP network sites with more than 1,000 practices nationwide—depend on NCI’s support to unlock basic biological understanding of cancer, turn that knowledge into potential new approaches against cancer, and test whether these approaches work for all populations.

Through major investments in data infrastructure, NCI enables researchers across the country to access critical data and technology they need to find answers. These valuable resources include the Cancer Research Data Commons, Childhood Cancer Data Initiative, and human tumor atlases. NCI training programs, in turn, produce a pipeline of researchers that contributes diverse talent to institutions nationwide, allowing us to meet the promise of all opportunities and discover lifesaving advances.

To seize today’s opportunities, we need to fully power the cancer research enterprise. This Fiscal Year 2025 Professional Judgment Budget Proposal outlines the investments required to make bold progress by taking full advantage of the incredible body of knowledge and scientific resources we have available to us. This foundation, built on years of sustained support, allows for the pursuit of basic science to provide the comprehensive biological understanding we still need for many cancers. It is also the basis for research programs that turn knowledge gained into answers that help many more people overcome cancer’s devasting challenges.

By funding cancer research as described in this proposal, we can capitalize on critical scientific opportunities, continue to lessen the impact of the past two decades of inflation that have eroded the purchasing power of NCI’s budget by a staggering $1.1 billion, and ensure that all people can benefit from our advances.

This proposal highlights five scientific opportunities that stand out as catalysts for progress:

NCI’s support for cancer research has led to many important breakthroughs for patients. The progress made against lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, is an excellent example. NCI-supported research played a vital role in developing targeted therapies responsible for the recent twofold decline in deaths from non-small cell lung cancer, the most common type of lung cancer.

Through basic science and immunology studies, NCI also laid the foundation for the development of immune checkpoint inhibitors to enhance the body's immune response against cancer. Several of these inhibitors are now approved for treating lung cancer and have substantially improved outcomes for many people with non-small cell lung cancer.

In addition, NCI supported the development of an exciting new type of targeted therapy that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2021. This advance shows great promise for treating cancers resistant to other therapies, including lung cancer and other challenging diseases such as pancreatic cancer. Expanding these investments will lead to more new treatments and offer hope to many more people still at risk of having time with their loved ones cut tragically short.

For the sake of all those whose lives are affected by cancer, we must seize upon the considerable scientific opportunities before us and break down barriers to cancer prevention and care. To achieve this, we need strong and sustained investments in cancer research to illuminate a path forward and ensure that no one facing cancer is left behind.


Read the Fiscal Year 2025 Professional Judgment Budget Proposal At a Glance


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