You have to hand it to the cancer lobby. It really has the U.S. federal government wrapped around its little finger. Some will say I’m overstating the case, but is that really a solid argument? Let’s examine the evidence.
Mortality, economic impact boxes? Not checked
First, let’s look at overall mortality in the U.S. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, heart disease was responsible for more than 614,000 deaths in 2013, while the various cancers claimed fewer than 592,000 lives. If you add cerebrovascular deaths (more than 133,000) into the mix, you have a total mortality for circulatory system diseases of nearly three quarters of a million people.
And don’t complain about my grouping of stroke with heart disease. Any cardiologist will tell you there’s a definitive link, and as far as I can tell, this doesn’t include deaths due to peripheral arterial disease. So if we’re using mortality – and largely preventable mortality at that – as a determining factor, one would imagine the federal government would be far more interested in circulatory system disease than in cancer.
But you would be wrong.
According to the CDC, the direct economic impact of cancer in 2012 was about $88 billion, while the Alzheimer’s Association predicts that Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative states will run up a tab of $236 billion this year alone. Both sets of numbers will get worse, but I can’t find any projections that have cancer closing the gap by much. So the cancer frenzy is not justified on economic grounds, either.
Cancer czars and patent bars
And yet, here we are with a cancer czar in the form of Richard Pazdur, who is the inaugural chief of the FDA Oncology Center of Excellence, not to mention a pilot program at the Patent and Trademark Office that will expedite patents dealing with immunotherapy for cancer.
So I’m thinking to myself: Which patent applications will be shoved to the back of the PTO queue, and which PMAs, BLAs and NDAs will get short shrift at FDA? Of course, industry will line up at the trough. Who wouldn’t? By the way, this is just the kind of shot in the arm that biotech desperately needs, given that the NASDAQ biotech index stood at more than 4,100 in July 2015, but slumped to less than 2,700 by the end of June 2016. Talk about hungry corporate mouths to feed.
While we’re at it, let’s think about the budget for the National Cancer Institute of $5.21 billion in the current fiscal year and the budget for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of $1.7 billion. If you think Millennials are an unhappy lot now, can you imagine how angry they’d be if they knew about this policy clown show?
So three cheers for 21st Century Cures, the Precision Medicine Initiative and the Cancer Moonshot. Let’s also hear it for self delusion. It’s become the most popular pastime in our nation’s capital, thanks in no small part to the cancer lobby.