Guest Opinion: State Legislature must step up on cancer research

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The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Just down the road in Portland, $200 million in taxpayer’s money will expand the state’s cancer institute and help support a massive $1 billion public-private effort to bring the nation’s top cancer researchers to Oregon. In Texas, a $3 billion public fund has been fueling cancer research and prevention efforts in the state since 2009.

Florida invested $80 million in state dollars this year to bolster their cancer research institutions. The same happens in Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and other states.

Meanwhile, here in Washington — the cradle of innovation and home of world-class cancer research and care — our state budget does not yet dedicate funding for cancer programs.

It is time to change that, especially as the other Washington continues to cut its commitment to biomedical research.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in our state and is the leading cause of childhood mortality due to disease — 38,000 Washingtonians will be diagnosed with cancer this year and 12,000 will die. Cancer touches nearly everyone’s lives, including our own. It doesn’t care where you come from, who you know, or how much money you have. This disease causes terrible physical, emotional and financial burdens on patients, their families and taxpayers.

Despite the enormous need to do more in the fight against cancer, the federal commitment to basic research is on a steady decline. Budget cuts and sequestration have significantly reduced the amount of National Institutes of Health funding coming into our state by tens of millions of dollars. Overall, the purchasing power of NIH dollars – the primary source of biomedical research in our country — has declined 23 percent in the last 10 years. That means reduced cancer research and fewer clinical trials for patients here in Washington.

As other states make significant public investments in cancer programs — hundreds of millions of state taxpayers’ dollars — our state’s institutions and life sciences industry are at a competitive disadvantage. Most significantly, our patients are getting left behind.

It is time to do something here. And we can this year.

Democrats and Republicans in both houses of the Legislature have proposed creating a dedicated fund to help fill the gap left by the loss of federal funds and invest in critical research, prevention and care. While they have different views on how to pay for it, there is no denying the need.

We are on the cusp of extraordinary advances in cancer treatments and cures right here. Washington is where bone marrow transplantation was pioneered and where the promise of immunotherapy will be revealed. It is where stem cells are slowing the most aggressive tumors and “tumor paint” is showing surgeons exactly where to cut.

Our scientists are deepening the understanding of cancer genomics to improve precision oncology and non-toxic treatments. All of this is happening at our public and non-profit institutions — places like Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Swedish Cancer Institute, the University of Washington and Washington State University – with a vibrant life sciences industry on both sides of the mountains that can help take research from the lab bench to the bedside.

Washington’s research institutions and biomedical companies have been unparalleled engines for scientific discovery, medical breakthroughs and economic growth. But nothing is guaranteed.

Simply put, we must keep and recruit the best, most innovative researchers and maintain our state as a hub of the best science. We must ensure clinical trials and the best care are available to patients across the state, and invest in proven cancer prevention and detection strategies to reduce cancer rates

This is an important moment in finding the cure to cancer. If we don’t invest now, these life-saving discoveries may not happen. A strong, bipartisan commitment to cancer research will result in scientific discoveries, new companies, good jobs, and, most importantly, saved lives. The time is now.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Chris Gregoire and Slade Gorton

Chris Gregoire is a former Democratic governor of Washington state. Slade Gorton is a former Republican U.S. Senator from Washington state.