One of the arguments we always heard during the healthcare debate was that America is the driving force behind every major medical advance in the universe, since forever. Indeed, Tennessee's own Junior Senator Bob Corker had the nerve to tell Canada's former Public Health Minister that Canada and France were mooching off of American innovation: we're the ones coming up with all the technological breakthroughs, which they benefit from! And dammit, it's unfair! It's our money paying to develop cures for cancer! Parasites!
Oh yes, that was embarassing.
I thought of that when I read about a Cleveland researcher's struggle to get funding to start clinical trials of a promising breast cancer vaccine:
With additional funding, the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute immunologist could begin testing the vaccine in two groups of humans: women with advanced breast cancer and healthy women with a high risk of developing the disease.
The cost to just make the vaccine is an estimated $1.8 million, a small part of the $6 million for all of the costs associated with conducting a clinical trial approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Tuohy said.
As 2010 wound down, however, Tuohy's hope that he would be able to secure sizable grants to cover those costs vanished into thin air.
The National Cancer Institute -- which the year before provided him funding -- and Susan G. Komen for the Cure had rejected his grant proposals, ending any chance that human trials could be launched before the end of 2011.
Why is this happening in America? Because, the article tells us, competition for cancer research funds is "stiff." Only 12% of the grant proposals NCI receives are awarded funds. Komen funds fewer than 80 grants of the 1,400 proposals it receives. And Dr. Tuohy is developing a preventative vaccine, whereas the medical community is focused more on treatment for existing cancer. Apparently prevention goes against the grain in the medical community.
This is the greatest healthcare system in the world? Bah. A paltry $6 million to test a promising breast cancer vaccine? We can't do this because why? With all the money we spend on crap at the Pentagon we can't scrape together $6 million for a preventative breast cancer vaccine? The Army spent $7 million sponsoring NASCAR driver Ryan Newman last year. We can do that but we can't fund clinical trials for a breast cancer vaccine? (On a related note: did you know the Dept. of Defense has a Breast Cancer Research Program? I didn't either. But no, they rejected Dr. Tuohy's application, too.)
So now citizens are pitching in. People, this story just restores my faith in America, it really does. Folks all around the country are holding fundraisers to help Dr. Tuohy, in what has to be the medical research equivalent of a pickle jar by the cash register. They've held garage sales, races, concerts, you name it. They've kicked in big money and little money. A sample:
Earlier this year, Judy Fitzgerald, a retired middle school teacher who lives in Portsmouth, R.I., sent Tuohy a check for $702, money raised from a 1950s-themed dance and items sold at a crafts fair.
These people are my heroes. You'd think our government or fucking GlaxoSmithKline or whatever would be able to cough up $6 millioni dollars for clinical trials -- hell, maybe WellPoint CEO Angela Braly could dip into her $13.2 million annual compensation, after all, isn't a breast cancer vaccine a lot cheaper in the long run for insurance companies than cancer treatment? But whatever. Free hand of the market, yada yada.
So once again the people step in when others have failed. It's not the most seamless or efficient way of doing things but we stumble along and eventually we get there.
The article has lots of links to donation pages if you're interested in getting involved.