Cuts in federal spending for scientific research, combined with the automatic federal budget cuts resulting from sequestration, are having a severe impact on cancer research, according to a survey conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

A total of 345 researchers responded to the survey, most of whom work at academic institutions or National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Cancer Centers.

The majority of survey respondents—75%—said that their research budgets had been cut, causing staff reductions, delayed clinical trials, and ending or slowing the rate of clinical research.

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Other key findings of the study are as follows:

  • 44% of respondents said they sought out non-federal sources of funding to replace federal funds
  • 38% have reduced the amount of time they spend on research
  • 35% have laid off staff
  • 37% have had to revise study protocols to reduce study costs
  • 23% have had to limit patient enrollment in a clinical trial

Many young investigators are leaving the field of cancer research for lack of opportunities, according to the survey results. “The cuts have been devastating and have compromised research careers, especially of junior faculty,” one survey respondent wrote.

“This trend could potentially devastate future cancer research, just when we are on the verge of achieving major progress against cancer and identifying the next generation of effective cancer therapies,” said ASCO Chief Medical Officer Richard L. Schilsky, MD.

In a recent editorial,1 Dr. Schilsky wrote of his concern over “fewer opportunities to advance a protocol concept to a fully developed research study and, eventually, a fully analyzed and published clinical trial.”

“If opportunities to develop and lead trials diminish, as current trends suggest, and institutional pressures to generate research funding and clinical revenue continue to grow,” Dr. Schilsky said, “the risk exists that young investigators will walk away.”

The federal budget sequester, which went into effect in March 2013, required across-the-board cuts to ongoing research throughout the United States. The National Institutes of Health (NIH)—the largest source of funding for medical research in the world—cut existing grants by 10% and dropped consideration of 700 research projects that otherwise would have been funded. The NCI, a component of the NIH, cut funding by 6% or more for non-competing grants, cancer centers, and other research programs, and cut research and development contracts by 8.5%.

Related: Editorial Discusses How Budget Sequestration will Impact Health Care

In addition, NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, noted his institute has lost $1.7 billion in federal funding since the start of sequestration and stands to lose another $600 million this year.

“People are demoralized,” said Dr. Collins, who spoke recently at a forum convened in Washington, DC, by Research!America, an organization dedicated to promoting scientific discovery. “That is research that could have been the next cure for cancer or the next Nobel Prize. But we’ll never know.”

Research!America Chair John Edward Porter, JD, a former US congressman from Illinois, said that Research!America’s polling shows that the majority of Americans support research as a means to lower healthcare costs, and half are willing to pay more taxes if the money is used to support medical research.

He added that Congress can no longer “kick the can down the road” when it comes to medical research. “They either have to get the job done or they have to get out of the way.”


1. Schilsky RL. Whither the cooperative groups? J Clin Oncol. ePub Ahead of Print: September 16, 2013; doi:10.1200/JCO.2013.52.0288.