Radioimmunotherapy Cited Before Senate Subcommittee as Example of Promising New Cancer Treatment, Reason for Continued NCI Support

April 12, 2005

Radioimmunotherapy Cited Before Senate Subcommittee as Example of Promising New Cancer Treatment, Reason for Continued NCI Support

In an appearance before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services on April 6, Andrew von Eschenbach, MD, director of the National Cancer Institute, cited recent development of an anti-CD20 radioimmunotherapeutic agent as one of the successes in the NCI’s war on cancer.

The full text of an e-mail to all NCI personnel from Dr. von Eschenbach, reporting on his appearance at the meeting to testify on the budget request for the Health and Human Services/National Institutes of Health, is reproduced below:

On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services held the appropriations hearing for NIH. Dr. Zerhouni, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Spiegel, Dr. Battey and I attended. It was clear by the questions I was asked that there is support for NCI’s efforts to accelerate progress toward eliminating the suffering and death due to cancer by 2015. Senator Arlen Specter, the Subcommittee Chairman, was particularly hopeful of NCI achieving this goal.

In response to specific questions, I shared with the Committee how we are rapidly evolving our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of the cancer disease process. We are moving from reductionism to a systems approach that is providing targets for cancer prevention, detection, elimination, and control interventions. I explained that because of the investment already made in cancer research, we have new opportunities to prevent many more cases of cancer, detect cancer earlier, preempt the disease process, and either eliminate it completely or keep it in check.

My guiding principle for the future is that NCI will continue to move forward in building the infrastructure and technologies that will further enhance our national research program. Initiatives in nanotechnology, imaging, and bioinformatics will transform our approach from empiric clinical research to science-based individualized medicine driven by genomics and proteomics. In response to a question from Senator Specter about lymphoma subsets, I related an example of understanding cancer at the molecular and cellular levels. I told the Committee about the recent success of an anti-CD20 radioimmunotherapeutic agent used in lymphoma patients whose cells express CD20. These patients, previously considered incurable, have shown a 75% complete response rate.

The challenge to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer is not a prediction of what might be done. Rather it is a destination that is reachable by sustaining the momentum of the National Cancer Program and focusing our efforts on reducing the burden of cancer. I look forward to continuing the dialogue with members of Congress as we work to meet this bold and visionary challenge.

Senator Tom Harkin raised the issue of the new conflict of interest regulations with the NIH Director. In particular, Senator Harkin was concerned about the effect stock divestiture may have on the recruitment and retention of NIH researchers. Dr. Zerhouni responded that he, too, was concerned, and he intends to "reevaluate quickly" this regulation. I anticipate that there will be more information forthcoming regarding stock divestiture.