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As Congress debates the fiscal 2012 appropriations and attempt to develop a long-term deficit reduction plan, members must deal with critical issues facing the nation. One issue is the support of biomedical research, which saves lives, improves quality of life and can serve as the foundation to improve the economy.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) provide leading academic and research institutions with the financial support necessary to build the infrastructure to conduct life saving medical science that potentially will affect all of our lives.

In the 40 years since the National Cancer Act was signed into law, impressive progress has been made. More than 12 million Americans are cancer survivors today because of the nation’s investment. Yet, as important as funding is to the research that will find the cures to diseases that affect Florida’s residents, Florida falls behind other states in attracting NIH federal dollars.

A recent article in the St. Petersburg Times quotes Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, discussing a survey showing the disparity in Florida’s population versus funding received from the National Institutes of Health.  The survey demonstrated that Floridians support education in the sciences and believe science careers to be important for the state economy. Without funding, however, Floridians will never realize these benefits.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida, we are determined to advance the cancer research that will save lives.  In spite of flat funding of the NCI and NIH by Congress, Moffitt Cancer Center has continued to grow.  In 1996, when Moffitt began investing in research, we received less than $10 million in grant funding.  Today, we have over $80 million in grant funding.  Moffitt has increased its NCI grant funding by more than 81 percent during the past five years, raising the cancer center to 22nd in the nation in NCI-funded institutions.

Although other Florida universities and academic centers have broader health interests and may have more overall funding from the National Institutes of Health, Moffitt’s mission is solely focused on beating cancer.  Consequently, most of our funding comes from the NCI, which funds only cancer-related grants.  We have more NCI funding than the rest of the state combined. But even with all funding in Florida combined, there is not enough support for cancer research statewide.

Floridians should be proud that the NCI ranks Moffitt among the top cancer centers based on a competitive peer review of our Cancer Center Support Grant, the grant which designates Moffitt as a comprehensive cancer center. There are only 40 institutions like ours in the country. The NCI touted our advanced research and our role as an important regional and national resource for cancer research and care.  They also mentioned the highly visionary Total Cancer Care™ initiative, which is Moffitt’s approach in personalized medicine to match the right patient to the right treatment.

In 2008, Moffitt was awarded a $10.5 million lung SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) grant, the only one of its kind in Florida, to use the Total Cancer Careâ„¢ database to translate discoveries in the laboratory to improve treatment and outcomes of the leading cause of cancer death in this country.

Moffitt’s work in Total Cancer Care™ has been recognized nationally and internationally. But our success in bringing new treatments to disease, as well as that of other institutions dedicated to biomedical research, will be increasingly impossible to achieve without ongoing investments at the state and national level.

At Moffitt, our researchers have made several discoveries using NCI funding, the cancer center conducts more clinical trials and enrolls more patients than any other institution in the state, and the research being conducted has resulted in better outcomes for our patients.

As federal and state lawmakers write the budgets for 2012 and beyond, I call on them to preserve funding for cancer and biomedical research. I realize that these are immensely challenging fiscal times, but such government-supported work is a vital investment that will pay off in lives saved, improvements in public health, continued innovation and economic growth.

I believe success breeds success, and we should continue to invest wisely in what we do best. I stand by my decision to relocate to Florida and work for Moffitt back in 1997 as the associate center director for clinical investigations and to return again as CEO and center director in 2002. The cancer center has an entrepreneurial board that supports innovation and private/public partnerships. This is a reflection of the “spirit of the community” to be the best in the field. For the sake of the millions of Americans who will be diagnosed with cancer and those struggling now with this devastating disease, continued investment in cancer and biomedical research will provide them with hope for a much brighter future.

William S. Dalton, Ph.D., M.D., is president/CEO and center director (AKA Passionate Leader) of Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

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