AACR Annual Report 2020

Science Policy and Government Affairs

Through its Office of Science Policy and Government Affairs, the AACR is a powerful voice for the cancer research community, providing authoritative information to policymakers and regulators about the critical value of federally funded cancer research. At the same time, the AACR works to foster collaboration and communication among legislators, regulators, scientists, and the public to maximize the impact of the nation's investment in biomedical science.

Science Policy and Government Affairs Committee (George D. Demetri, MD, FAACR, Chair): Advocating for Scientists, Clinicians, and Patients

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AACR called on our elected representatives to provide sustained and predictable funding increases for medical research and to protect the interests of patients. These efforts were rewarded in December 2020, when Congress passed a package that provided an increase of $1.25 billion for the NIH (including a $119.5 million increase for the NCI) and an increase of $42.25 million for the FDA in fiscal year (FY) 2021 compared to the previous year. While these increases fell short of the amounts advocated by the AACR and its partners, they did demonstrate that medical research remains a high priority in the face of strict budget caps.

  • Early-Career Hill Day. In February 2020, the AACR and its Associate Member Council brought 16 Associate Members to Washington, D.C., for the fifth annual AACR Early-Career Hill Day. The early-career scientists visited the offices of their senators and representatives and asked them to support continued robust funding for the NIH and NCI. This extraordinary event educates young investigators about the importance of advocacy for federal research funding and provides a unique opportunity for lawmakers to hear firsthand about the professional issues confronting cancer researchers in training.
  • Advocacy from the AACR Board of Directors. In March, the AACR Board of Directors sent a letter to congressional leaders, President Trump, and Vice President Pence, thanking them for passing the CARES Act and asking them to take immediate steps to alleviate the COVID-19 public health emergency while protecting cancer patients and ensuring the ongoing vibrancy of the cancer workforce.
  • AACR-AACI Hill Day. The AACR and the Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) adapted their joint Hill Day to a virtual format in June, bringing leaders of both organizations together for teleconferences with key congressional leaders and their staffs. Participants called for robust funding increases for the NIH and NCI in FY 2021, as well as emergency supplemental funding for medical research in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Rally for Medical Research Hill Day. In September, the AACR hosted the eighth annual Rally for Medical Research Hill Day in a virtual format. As the founding organizer of the Rally, the AACR brought together nearly 500 advocates from 350 partner organizations to engage in teleconferences with their members of Congress and congressional staff. A virtual reception held the evening before featured remarks from NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, and key leaders on the appropriations committees in the House and Senate, including Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and Tom Cole (R-OK), and Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA).
  • AACR Cancer Progress Report Briefings. During separate virtual congressional briefings in September, AACR President (2020–2021) Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, FAACR, and Chief Executive Officer Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), presented two editions of the AACR’s much anticipated Cancer Progress Reports:
    • AACR Cancer Progress Report 2020. During the release of the tenth edition of this annual report, scientists and cancer survivors described how federally funded research is improving public health by driving innovation across the spectrum of cancer care.
    • Inaugural AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report. At the briefing to commemorate the release of this inaugural report, steering committee chair John D. Carpten, PhD, joined other distinguished scientists, cancer survivors, and members of Congress in discussing the latest research on the underlying causes of cancer disparities in racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations, and the urgent actions that must be taken to address this public health crisis.

Regulatory Science and Policy Subcommittee:
Kenneth C. Anderson, MD, FAACR, Chair

The AACR Regulatory Science and Policy Subcommittee develops and implements programs and policy initiatives to improve the development, evaluation, and regulation of cancer drugs, biologics, and devices. The subcommittee worked with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on three critical initiatives in 2020:

  • FDA-AACR Workshop to Examine Underrepresentation of African Americans in Multiple Myeloma Clinical Trials. The AACR and FDA cosponsored this February workshop to discuss multi-stakeholder recommendations for increasing the representation of African Americans in multiple myeloma trials. Chaired by FDA representatives Nicole J. Gormley, MD, Lola A. Fashoyin-Aje, MD, MPH, and Paul G. Kluetz, MD, and AACR representative Dr. Anderson, the workshop discussed strategies for collecting data on multiple myeloma therapies in diverse populations, from the earliest trial stages through drug approval and into the postmarket and real-world settings. The workshop recommendations will spur broader efforts across cancer types to expand representation among clinical trial participants.
  • FDA-AACR Oncology Educational Fellowship. In October, the AACR and the FDA Oncology Center of Excellence (OCE) announced the first recipients of the inaugural FDA-AACR Oncology Educational Fellowship. The twenty fellows—who were selected through a competitive application process—will interact with FDA experts to increase their understanding of the oncology drug development and regulatory review process.
  • Project Livin’ Label. In November, the AACR and the FDA announced this new collaborative educational initiative that aims to foster broad understanding of oncology product labels and increase awareness of recent FDA oncology drug approvals. For each oncology product featured as part of this initiative, the FDA OCE will moderate a panel discussion that includes an FDA reviewer, a clinical trial investigator from academia, a patient who has benefited from the therapy, and a representative from the company that developed the drug.
  • Virtual AACR Annual Meeting: Regulatory Science and Policy Track. The virtual AACR Annual Meeting II in June included a robust slate of sessions on key topics in regulatory science and policy, including the impact on drug development of the underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities and the elderly in clinical trials; tumor response evaluation criteria for intratumoral therapy; an introduction to FDA Project Renewal and Project Socrates; and FDA guidance for trials and considerations for real-world evidence to accommodate patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yasmin Kadry, PhD
FDA-AACR Oncology Educational Fellow

Tobacco Products and Cancer Subcommittee:
Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD, Chair

The mission of the AACR Tobacco Products and Cancer Subcommittee is to foster scientific and policy initiatives to reduce the incidence of disease and mortality due to tobacco use. In February, the subcommittee worked with the FDA and the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) to convene an FDA-AACR-IASLC Workshop on the Criticality of Tobacco Use Assessment in Oncology Therapeutic Trials. Chaired by Dr. Herbst along with Michael E. Menefee, MD, and Matthew Steliga, MD, the workshop highlighted the limited data captured on tobacco and e-cigarette use patterns among clinical trial participants and made recommendations for the evaluation and systematic assessment of tobacco use in future trials.

Survivor and Patient Advocacy

Through its Survivor and Patient Advocacy initiatives, the AACR connects patient advocates with the scientific community, fostering communication and patient engagement in the research enterprise. The AACR responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 by adapting its programs to virtual formats in an attempt to overcome isolation and maintain active communications with patients:

  • Scientist↔︎Survivor Program®. The AACR Scientist↔︎Survivor Program (SSP) builds enduring partnerships among leaders of the scientific, survivor, and patient advocacy communities. Nearly 100 patient advocates and scientists participated in virtual SSP programs during the virtual AACR Annual Meeting and the virtual AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved. The AACR also used the shift to virtual events to expand access to the patient community, offering free registration to all virtual scientific conferences to patient advocate members.
  • Virtual Patient Advocate Forum: COVID-19 and Cancer.
    Moderated by SSP founder Anna D. Barker PhD, the program of this October virtual forum addressed scientific issues surrounding COVID-19—including treatments and vaccines—as well as the impact of the pandemic on cancer patient care.

AACR Patient Advocate Forum: COVID-19 and Cancer

  • Cancer Dialogues. The AACR Cancer Dialogues interview series brings together patient advocates, physicians, scientists, and cancer survivors to discuss their unique perspectives and shared experiences on topics in cancer research and advocacy. In the summer and fall of 2020, the Dialogues series was expanded to address vital topics such as cancer health disparities, COVID-19 and cancer, and the unique challenges facing patients diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer or lung cancer.
  • AACR Advocacy Alerts. To keep patient advocates and cancer professionals connected and informed in 2020, the AACR launched a monthly e-newsletter to highlight AACR advocacy initiatives and showcase inspiring stories of cancer survivors and patient advocates.
  • San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. The AACR partnered with the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation to present a virtual education session for patient advocates during the symposium. The session featured Jenny Chang, MD, director of the Houston Methodist Hospital Cancer Center, during which she discussed breast cancer stem cell research.

Cancer Today Magazine

Cancer Today is the AACR’s award-winning magazine and website for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. It is a vital resource for those navigating a cancer diagnosis, treatment, or survival. Now in its ninth year of publication, the magazine addresses important cancer topics in a comprehensive way. Among the most read stories published in 2020 were the following:

  • “The Puzzle of Pancreatic Cancer.” Pancreatic cancer remains a difficult disease to treat and is expected to be the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. by 2030. Researchers hope that clinical trials and insights into the genetics of the disease will reverse the trend.
  • “Drinking After a Diagnosis.” A study found that while most people do not drink or drink moderately following a cancer diagnosis, a significant minority drink more alcohol than is recommended. Drinking may be associated with worsened cancer-related outcomes, such as cancer recurrence or death, and can put survivors at risk for new cancers.

Distinguished Public Service Awards

The AACR Distinguished Public Service Award honors the extraordinary contributions of an individual or group whose groundbreaking, innovative work exemplifies the organization’s mission. The AACR honored four individuals in 2020 for their outstanding efforts to advance cancer science for the benefit of patients.

2020 AACR Distinguished Public Service Awards

Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD
Ensign Professor of Medicine, Chief of Medical Oncology, and Associate Cancer Center Director for Translational Research, Yale Cancer Center
New Haven, Connecticut

A nationally recognized leader in lung cancer research and treatment, Dr. Herbst is a tireless advocate for strong tobacco control policies and regulations. He has served as chair of the Tobacco Products and Cancer Subcommittee of the AACR’s Science Policy and Government Affairs Committee since the subcommittee was founded in 2009. A newly elected member of the AACR Board of Directors (2020–2023), Dr. Herbst received the Distinguished Public Service Award in recognition of his sustained, outstanding leadership in cancer science policy for the AACR.

Douglas R. Lowy, MD, FAACR
Principal Deputy Director and Chief of the Laboratory of Cellular Oncology, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute
Bethesda, Maryland

Dr. Lowy is best known for his papillomavirus research involving viral oncogenes, conducted in collaboration with Dr. John T. Schiller, which contributed to the establishment of the FDA-approved human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. These vaccines counteract HPV infections, which are responsible for approximately 5% of human cancer worldwide. As acting director of the NCI from April 2015 to October 2017, Dr. Lowy provided critical national leadership to advance the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative that Vice President Joe Biden spearheaded during the final year of the Obama administration. He served a second term as acting NCI director from January 2019 to November 2019. He received the Distinguished Public Service Award in recognition of his outstanding leadership of the NCI during his tenure.

Yoshiyuki Majima, PhD, MPH
Founder, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) Japan
Tokyo, Japan

Mr. Majima founded PanCAN Japan in 2006 after his sister’s death from pancreatic cancer, and the organization is now the largest support organization for pancreatic cancer patients in Japan. One of his most notable achievements was calling upon the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare to reduce the “drug lag” for first-line pancreatic cancer drugs imported to Japan, resulting in a reduction in the approval time for imported drugs from six years to two years. He received the Distinguished Public Service Award in recognition of his outstanding leadership in patient advocacy, education, and support.

Patricia Spears, BS
Cancer Research Patient Advocate
University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

As a breast cancer survivor and revered patient advocate, Ms. Spears urges patients to participate in clinical trials and inspires clinicians and researchers by reminding them of the critical importance of the patient voice in treatment. She has devoted her time and vision to more than a dozen initiatives, including the AACR Conflict of Interest Working Group, the AACR Scientist↔︎Survivor Program, and the 2018–2019 AACR Annual Meeting Program Committee. She received the Distinguished Public Service Award in recognition of her long-standing advocacy for cancer patients and their loved ones and caregivers.