WASHINGTON — Houston-area Republican Rep. Michael McCaul is pressing Congress to boost federal spending to combat cancers that afflict thousands of America's children each year. McCaul, an Austin resident whose congressional district covers northwestern areas of Houston, urged Congress to take action during a Childhood Cancer Summit convened on Capitol Hill to increase lawmakers' awareness about the need for more steps to fight the disease.
McCaul hosted the session with Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., with whom he co-founded the 68-member Pediatric Cancer Caucus. Sestak's daughter Alexandra is a brain cancer survivor. McCaul and Sestak already have collaborated to secure $4 million for childhood cancer research in the current federal budget.
For every $6 in federal research spent per AIDS patient and every $1 spent per patient on breast cancer, a child with cancer gets only 30 cents.
"This disease devastates children and families," said McCaul. "Unfortunately the drugs, research, treatment and funding that exist pale in comparison to what's available for adult forms of cancer."
McCaul noted that only one new drug has been approved to combat pediatric cancer since 1980, a period that saw 50 medications approved to fight adult cancers.
"We have an obligation to increase the odds of survival and the quality of survival for our children, and to do that we have to make an investment," he said.
McCaul has enlisted help from two of Texas' renowned cancer specialists.
Research grantsDr. Eugenie Kleinerman, head of pediatrics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, told the summit that the molecular abnormalities in childhood cancers "are not necessarily the same as those in adult tumors and thus laboratory research must be focused on
Dr. Susan Blaney, deputy director of Texas Children's Cancer Center, said studies of childhood cancer are showing that what had long been considered to be a single type of tumor "may actually be three, four or five subtypes of the same disease — each with a different set of aberrations." Blaney said that means "instead of needing one treatment for a particular type of cancer, we may need multiple and different types of targeted treatments."
McCaul and Sestak said they plan legislation that would provide drug companies priority review for approval of new drugs targeting childhood cancers, and provide grants to train primary care physicians to better identify side effects of anti-cancer medications in children as well as to spot
any signs of recurrence of the disease.
The lawmakers also seek to provide children greater access to clinical trials of new medications and funding to increase pediatric cancer research at the National Cancer Institute.
"As the father of a child with cancer, I know all too well the gut-wrenching impact it can have," said Sestak, currently the Democratic candidate for the Senate from Pennsylvania.