President Obama Signs the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act into Law

Landmark legislation requiring the National Cancer Institute to ramp up their research efforts on cancers with very low survival rates was signed into law early this month.

Landmark legislation requiring the National Cancer Institute to ramp up their research efforts on cancers with very low survival rates was signed into law early this month.

A bill mandating the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to identify and research 2 or more cancers with a 5-year survival rate of less than 20% was signed into law by President Obama early this month. According to the rules stipulated within the bill, the NCI must identify these cancers within the next 6 months, provide guidelines for early detection, and establish a scientific framework within which they must “identify scientific advancements, evaluate the sufficiency of researchers, and outline a plan for ongoing research.”

The legislation, which was formally known as the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, seeks to help improve health outcomes for those diagnosed with the deadliest forms of cancer. There are no known effective treatment options and no early detection methods for pancreatic cancer, and the condition has the lowest survival rate of any major cancer. As a result, the legislation was initially designed with this specific condition in mind.

An earlier version of the bill was criticized by many major cancer organizations and scientists, and was deemed to be “not particularly useful” by NCI Director Harold Varmus. He thought the legislation should be focused on “the categories of cancer that conform to the cell of origin and the nature of the genotype,” rather than on pancreatic cancer alone. According to The Cancer Letter, critics of the original draft of the legislation were also concerned that the legislation would spark a “disease Olympics” and researchers would compete to find an effective treatment for only 1 specific cancer type. In addition, some members of the American Association for Cancer Research feared the legislation would disrupt the NCI peer review process.

The language in the current legislation was expanded to include all “recalcitrant” cancers, which are defined as cancers that are difficult to detect. These can encompass cancers of the pancreas, liver, ovaries, and lungs.

Under the new law—which was sponsored by Representative Leonard Lance (R, NJ) and was part of the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act—the NCI has 18 months to deliver its plan to defeat the nation’s deadliest cancers.

“The Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act will help improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the deadliest types of cancers,” noted Rep Lance in a press release. "This new law will hopefully mean a brighter future for patients suffering from recalcitrant cancers and their families.”