A Message from AACR
We have evidenced unprecedented progress against cancer in the last decade. Remarkable advances across the spectrum of medical research, enabled by decades of federal investments, have led to profound improvements in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment. As a result, the U.S. cancer death rate is steadily declining, and more people than ever before are living longer and fuller lives after a cancer diagnosis. In fact, the number of children and adults living with a history of cancer exceeded a record 18 million in January 2022.
The vital importance of research for improving health and saving lives from cancer is highlighted in this twelfth edition of the annual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Cancer Progress Report. As emphasized in the report, federal funding for medical research, supported primarily by investments in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has enabled researchers to decode the biological complexities of cancer and has accelerated the pace at which this knowledge is being integrated to transform outcomes for patients.
Among the advances detailed in the report are the eight new anticancer therapeutics that were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between August 1, 2021, and July 31, 2022. Several of these groundbreaking therapeutics highlight how researchers are rapidly harnessing the knowledge gleaned from discovery science to transform patient outcomes.
The first ever approval of a molecularly targeted therapeutic against hypoxia-inducible factor-2 alpha for patients with solid tumors associated with von Hippel-Lindau disease, a rare inherited condition characterized by the growth of tumors and cysts, underscores the remarkable progress in our understanding of cancer biology.
It took nearly four decades from the initial discoveries uncovering the molecular underpinnings of chronic myelogenous leukemia in the 1960s to the approval of imatinib, the first BCR-ABL targeted therapeutic against the disease, in the 2000s. Since then, subsequent generations of BCR-ABL targeted therapeutics have been developed rapidly. The most recent approval of the sixth agent, asciminib, with a unique mechanism of action provides new hope for patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia whose cancer has developed resistance against the other available treatments.
Another area of cancer treatment in which extraordinary progress is being made is immunotherapy. One immunotherapeutic was recently approved as the first ever treatment for uveal melanoma, the most common form of eye cancer in adults. The use of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI)—therapeutics that work by releasing brakes on natural cancer-fighting immune cells called T cells—is continuing to expand. In 2011, there was only one checkpoint inhibitor approved by FDA. As of July 31, 2022, there are nine checkpoint inhibitors approved by FDA, including the newly approved relatlimab, an inhibitor against the protein LAG-3, a novel immune checkpoint target. Expansion of our knowledge of the immune system and its interactions with other cells within a tumor, catalyzed by interdisciplinary team science and technological innovations, will continue to shape the future of immunotherapy and lead to more breakthroughs for patients.
Despite major advances in our understanding of the disease, cancer continues to pose a significant threat in the United States and worldwide. This is underscored by the sobering reality that in the United States alone, an estimated 600,000 lives will be lost to cancer in 2022. This number is predicted to increase considerably in the coming decades because the segment of the U.S. population that accounts for nearly 60 percent of cancer diagnoses—those age 65 and older—is growing. Individuals with certain underlying comorbidities, such as those living with HIV, are at a higher risk of developing cancer. Thanks to highly effective treatments, more people with HIV are living longer and healthier lives. However, as the population living with HIV continues to age, the epidemiology of HIV-associated cancers is also evolving. It is critical that public health experts implement evidence-based strategies to improve cancer prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship for everyone, and particularly for populations that are most vulnerable to cancer such as those living with HIV.
In the United States, effective public education and policy initiatives have contributed to some of the greatest reductions in cancer morbidity and mortality. It is imperative that all stakeholders work together to raise awareness of the cancer risk factors that are potentially modifiable and implement policies to minimize the burden of cancer from these causes.
Cancer can strike anyone—regardless of age, race, ethnicity, ancestry, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, geographic location, or political affiliation. Yet, as highlighted in this report, advances against cancer have not benefited everyone equally; racial and ethnic minorities and certain underserved populations shoulder a disproportionate burden of cancer. This is unacceptable. As a scientific organization focused on preventing and curing all cancers, diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the core of our work. AACR is fiercely committed to understanding and addressing the biological and systemic roots of cancer disparities and to ensuring that health equity through research, policy, and advocacy is a national priority.
As we look to the future, we strongly believe that we have never been in a better position to take lifesaving cancer science from the bench to the clinic. Thanks to bipartisan leadership in Congress that has delivered steady, significant annual funding increases for NIH, we now have the scientific knowledge, cutting-edge technologies, and capability to deliver unprecedented advances to all cancer patients. However, as we recover from the devastating impact of COVID-19 on cancer research and patient care, ensuring that medical research remains a high priority for our nation’s policy makers is vital if we are to maintain the momentum against cancer.
AACR is thrilled that in February 2022, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., announced a reignition of the Cancer Moonshot. With the year 2022 marking the 115th anniversary of our existence, AACR and its members are unified in our strong resolve to work alongside the Biden administration toward achieving our shared goal of “ending cancer as we know it today.” The reignited Cancer Moonshot will provide an important framework to improve cancer prevention strategies; increase cancer screenings and early detection; reduce cancer disparities; and propel new lifesaving cures for patients with cancer. Therefore, AACR urges Congress to continue to support robust, sustained, and predictable annual increases in the budgets of NIH and NCI, and to provide consistent and sufficient annual funding for the Cancer Moonshot, FDA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These actions will transform cancer care, increase survivorship, and bring lifesaving cures to the millions of people whose lives are touched by cancer.
Lisa M. Coussens, MD (hc), PhD, FAACR
AACR President, 2022-2023
Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc)
AACR Chief Executive Officer