We know many of the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has upended lives and plans: jobs have been lost and families are struggling. Businesses are closing. Uncertainty is high. However, one of the lesser known impacts of this pandemic is one that may have one of the furthest reaching consequences: the massive decline in cancer research funding and related research work.
According to a recent American Cancer Society report, more than half of cancer research was put on hold or halted at the onset of the pandemic. It’s uncertain when research will resume at its previous pace, but we know the implications of this slowdown will have long-term impacts: research takes years to come to fruition. A cancer breakthrough begins perhaps 10-20 years earlier. If research is disrupted today, it means lives lost tomorrow.
There are nearly 15 million cancer survivors in the United States today and an estimated 1.7 million people who will be newly diagnosed this year, and cancer is the leading cause of disease death here in Massachusetts.
Prior to COVID-19, progress was being made every day. Federally funded cancer research propelled our ongoing progress in the fight against cancer resulting in breakthroughs for targeted and immuno-therapies, more opportunities to prevent and detect the disease early, and improved quality of life for those already diagnosed. Pandemic related disruptions to cancer research threaten the progress we’ve made in scientific discovery and innovation.
And it is not just lives at stake: when research suffers, our economy suffers. Research funded by the National Institutes of Health supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity across the United States each year — nearly 476,000 jobs and more than $81 billion in economic activity in 2019. In Massachusetts alone in 2019, NIH funding resulted in more than 36,000 jobs and more than $7 billion in economic activity. The extent of this economic ripple effect in 2020 could be significantly muted due to COVID-19.
Research is the cornerstone of the fight against cancer.It helps drive new treatments and diagnostics. It tells us who is at risk and why. It informs prevention, patient support, and advocacy efforts. Nearly half of all cancer deaths are preventable, but inadequate funding for groundbreaking research stalls our ability to uncover lifesaving solutions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused so much loss. Our lives have been forever altered. If we don’t act now, those losses will be compounded. A generation of research depends on what we do right now.
With your help, vital cancer research won’t stop. Together, we can save millions of lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer.
If you’d like to be part of the engine that reignites federally funded cancer research, please attend an October 26 virtual forum by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), Reigniting Research, a fireside chat with Dr. Ned Sharpless, Director of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Sharpless will share the impact of COVID-19 on cancer research and how we are moving forward to restart research and innovation across the country.
Learn more at www.fightcancer.org/reignitingresearch. Sponsorship opportunities are still available.
About the Author:
Shalini Vallabhan, Ph.D.
Managing Director, Government Relations, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS-CAN)
Shalini Vallabhan is a social impact leader dedicated to improving health for all. Her expertise and experience include working with government, non-profit organizations and the private sector to improve health in the U.S., India and across South-east Asia. She is currently managing director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and is leading strategic alliances in the Northeastern U.S. from DC to Maine.