A Message from AACR
We are in an era of extraordinary scientific progress against cancer. In the United States, overall cancer death rates are continuing to decline, and the number of cancer survivors has reached a record high. Breakthroughs across the spectrum of cancer science and medicine are contributing to unparalleled advances against previously intractable diseases, such as advanced lung cancer and metastatic melanoma. Thanks to the new wave of scientific discoveries and technological innovation, we are now poised to deliver transformative advances that will save even more lives from cancer.
The AACR Cancer Progress Report 2023 provides a comprehensive overview of the remarkable progress we are making because of medical research, much of which is supported by federal investments in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). As highlighted in the report, federal funding for medical research has enhanced our understanding of the complexities of cancer and accelerated the rate at which this knowledge is being harnessed to develop new and better approaches to preventing, detecting, diagnosing, treating, and curing cancer.
Among the advances detailed in the report are the 14 new anticancer therapeutics that were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between August 1, 2022, and July 31, 2023.
Among the new treatments is the first antibody-drug conjugate, a type of molecularly targeted therapeutic, approved for treating patients with ovarian cancer harboring a specific biomarker. Another major advance in cancer medicine is the FDA approval of a molecularly targeted therapeutic specifically directed against the altered protein arising from a mutated KRAS gene, one of the most commonly mutated genes in human cancers. This remarkable achievement—the drug being only the second of its kind to receive FDA approval—was made possible by decades of laboratory and clinical research. As we continue to discover the molecular and cellular underpinnings of the collection of diseases we call cancer, there will be more groundbreaking discoveries that further advance the frontiers of precision cancer medicine.
As showcased in the report, decades of basic research in the field of immunology have led to a surge in the impact of cancer immunotherapy, the newest pillar of cancer treatment that has revolutionized patient care. The use of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI), which are immunotherapeutics that work by releasing brakes on the natural cancer-killing power of the immune system, has expanded at an unprecedented pace over the past decade. In January 2013, there was only one FDA- approved ICI for treating just one cancer type. As of July 31, 2023, there were 11 ICIs approved by FDA, and at least one ICI has been approved for treating 20 different types of cancer and any type of solid tumor characterized by the presence of specific molecular signatures, or biomarkers.
CAR T-cell-based immunotherapies, which are currently approved for an array of hematologic cancers, have ushered in a new era of personalized medicine because they are generated by the genetic engineering of a patient’s own immune cells to attack his or her cancer cells. Expanding our knowledge about the immune system and how it interacts with cancer cells, and facilitating the convergence of experts from an increasingly diverse array of disciplines, will create even more opportunities for pioneering advances in immunotherapy for the benefit of patients around the world.
Despite these significant strides against the disease, we must continue our quest for newer and more innovative methods to prevent and cure cancer while improving the quality of life of our patients. This urgent need is underscored by the sobering reality that nearly 2 million American will be diagnosed with cancer in 2023. This number is predicted to increase considerably in the coming decades because cancer is largely a disease of aging, and the segment of the U.S. population age 65 and older is growing. Therefore, it is critical to implement newer and more effective strategies for cancer prevention, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment.
Moving forward, we must also ensure that everyone benefits from the groundbreaking advances against cancer. As highlighted in this report, racial and ethnic minorities and other medically underserved populations shoulder a disproportionate burden of cancer. Participation of patients from these population groups in clinical trials that are testing lifesaving new anticancer therapeutics continues to be disappointingly low. We must adopt new approaches to inform, educate, and encourage cancer patients to enroll in clinical trials so that researchers can identify the most efficacious approaches to help all patients. As a scientific organization whose core values include diversity, equity, and inclusion, AACR is fiercely committed to addressing all inequities in cancer research and patient care and to ensuring sociodemographic diversity in the cancer workforce so that it is reflective of the patient population it serves.
Looking 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 and significant annual funding increases for NIH and NCI, we now have the scientific knowledge, cutting-edge technologies, and capability to deliver unprecedented advances to all cancer patients. As the first and largest professional organization in the world dedicated to advancing all areas of cancer science and medicine, AACR is thrilled to work alongside the administration and complement the NCI’s National Cancer Plan to meet the goal of the reignited Cancer Moonshot of reducing the cancer death rate by at least half by 2047. To address the nation’s cancer mission and its challenges at the earliest possible time, AACR launched the AACR Cancer Centers Alliance on September 13, 2023. This formal partnership with the nation’s cancer centers will serve as a catalyst to marshal their resources and collaborate directly, effectively, and synergistically to propel new lifesaving cures for the millions of people whose lives are touched by cancer.
To maintain the momentum against cancer, we must ensure that medical research remains a national priority for our policymakers. Notably, the return on the federal investments in medical research has been extraordinary. For example, in the last 40 years, U.S. patients with cancer have collectively gained nearly 14 million years of life because of NCI-funded cancer research. 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These actions will further advance the frontiers of cancer science and medicine and save more lives from cancer.
Philip D. Greenberg, MD, FAACR
Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc)
AACR Chief Executive Officer