Sequestration cuts hit Moffitt Cancer Center hard

The odds of getting grants has also diminished.

  • Congressman Dennis Ross visits with Dr. Kenneth Swain at Moffitt Cancer Center on Monday

During a tour of some of the facilities at Tampa's acclaimed Moffitt Cancer Center on Monday, Congressman Dennis Ross got an earful from some researchers about how sequestration is stifling their efforts at improving outcomes for patients.

"We had a large grant for multiple lung cancer projects, (but) we’re having trouble getting it renewed because there’s just not enough money in the pot for that," Eric Haura, a practicing oncology doctor, told Ross. He added that "a new grant came in a couple of months ago. It already has a 13 percent budget cut. So it's hard to fill in the pieces, and less money is less science. It's as simple as that."

Moffitt physicians and their brethren around the country receive grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but that department saw its budget reduced by $1.7 billion earlier this year after sequestration went into affect on March 1. More than $37 million of Moffitt's $62 million in cancer research grants comes from the NIH.

"It's definitely harder to get a grant," said post-doctoral research fellow Daniel Verduzco, speaking inside the Multiple Myeloma Working Center. "We’ve been feeling the pain. My boss tells me you’ve just got to try to be really frugal with your experiments."

Receiving grants is tremendously important for the doctors at Moffitt and similar research facilities, but Dr. Kenneth Swain said that applying for them takes an enormous amount of time.

"Part of getting funding is also publishing findings," he told Ross. "That means getting this data out there, getting the scientific community to read, if you can’t do that, you can’t write the grants, and you can’t get the funding."

The chances of getting grants have also diminished.

Dr. Haura said that a recent grant he and a colleague submitted to the NIH came back with a 14 percentile score, meaning it ranked in the top 14 percent of all submissions. But he said "it won't get funded this year," meaning he'll resubmit it at some point this fall or perhaps not until the new year. He said that the grant application is for an idea that came to them close to a year ago.

"The worry is that you may not notice it next year, you may not notice in three years, but in 10 years, that's when you'll notice it," Haura said. "You start noticing it because there’s not a lot of people doing science anymore. The cures don’t show up, then were burdened to trying all these things that really aren’t smart."

Ross said that when Congress returns back from its recess next month and begins negotiations on a continuing resolution to keep the government afloat, he hopes to have some reallocation of the sequester to bring back more funding to the NIH. "We've got to keep the investment in NIH a priority," he said.

Sequestration is $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts due to go into effect over the next 10 years, with roughly $85 billion slated for this year. But while the criticism of the indiscriminate cutting has come from virtually everyone in Washington, most Republicans (and some Democrats) have shown no interest in rescinding it. The problem that many have with it is that the cuts are implemented across the board in a haphazard fashion. That's certainly appears to be Congressman Ross's attitude.

"We are bringing in more revenue than we’ve ever brought into the US government," he avowed. "There is no reason why we can’t work within those revenues to make sure we had the appropriate appropriations and preserve the investments in the health and technological arenas."


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