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Senator Blunt

Age: 66
U.S. Senator for Missouri​​

When your family is healthy, you have many problems; when someone in your family is sick, you have only one problem. That’s especially true for any family that has faced a cancer diagnosis. In 2016, nearly 1.7 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed with cancer for the first time, and nearly 600,000 will lose their lives to the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. That’s why it is imperative that we continue prioritizing resources to advance biomedical research and accelerate progress toward new, groundbreaking treatments.

As chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), I was proud to write and pass a funding bill last year that raised the National Institutes of Health’s funding by $2 billion, a 6.7 percent increase. This amount represented the largest funding increase the NIH received in this bill in over a decade. I’m glad to announce we’re on track to provide another $2 billion increase this year as part of the first bipartisan Senate Labor/HHS appropriations bill in 7 years. This year’s bill, which was reported by the Appropriations Committee in June, includes more than $5.4 billion for the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a 4 percent increase. Coupled with last year’s funding, that represents a 9.6 percent increase over the past 2 years for the NCI. We achieved that increase, in part, by eliminating 36 ineffective or duplicative programs.

Together, the NIH and NCI are paving the way for the next breakthrough in cancer research. As a renal and prostate cancer survivor, I’m particularly interested in the progress that’s underway in the field of precision medicine. Last year, we began a new Precision Medicine Initiative, which utilizes specific genetic, environmental, and lifestyle data to tailor treatments to individuals. As Dr. Douglas Lowy, the acting director at NCI, explained at a recent hearing before the Labor/HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, this type of research is critical for determining how “you deliver the right drug, to the right patient, at the right time.”

For example, a recent clinical trial for a genetic test known as MammaPrint found that as many as half of the patients who were slated for chemotherapy based on traditional clinical assessments did not actually require the treatment. According to the study, patients with breast cancer who underwent surgery to remove their tumors and had a MammaPrint score recommending against chemotherapy, had a 95 percent survival rate. The study confirms what I heard from doctors and researchers at the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis earlier this year, who told me that developing targeted therapies through precision medicine has the potential to save patients unnecessary—and often aggressive—treatment while driving down health care costs.

Federal funding for cancer research and prevention has historically driven major breakthroughs in the field and will continue to play a pivotal role. The investments we make today will not only save lives, but they’ll also lead to new frontiers in drug and device development that are critical for reducing health care costs, growing our economy, and maintaining America’s competitive edge in innovation.

Over the past decade, the NIH has lost more than 20 percent of its research purchasing power. I’m proud that we were able to take a step toward bridging that gap last year. I will continue making NIH and cancer research funding a priority in the fiscal year ahead, in the hopes that we can sustain an upward trajectory in biomedical investment within the constraints of a tough fiscal environment.

In my view, every dollar we spend should reflect the priorities of the American people. I can think of no greater priority than to give hope to families battling cancer and to help more people live longer, healthier lives. I’m incredibly grateful for the treatment I received and the researchers and doctors who made my recovery possible. I will continue fighting to give all Americans the same opportunity.

 

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