Cancer Research and Cancer Treatment

The first installment in a series of posts on the status of cancer research and cancer treatment has been posted at Dean’s World. The series has been written by guest bloggers George L Gabor Miklos, PhD and Phillip John Baird, MD PhD.

George L Gabor Miklos and Phillip John Baird are Director and CEO, respectively, of Secure Genetics and Integrated Diagnostic Pathology. The former is a molecular genetics-based data evaluation company, the latter a clinical diagnostic pathology company. Neither is affiliated with, nor receives any monetary compensation, gifts or other payments in lieu, from pharmaceutical companies, government funding bodies or private institutions in the cancer or drug development areas.

The War on Cancer is more than 30 years old, having been announced by Richard Nixon during his first term and actually getting up some steam during Nixon’s second term. Some progress has been made but not as much as might have been hoped considering the billions that have been invested.

I don’t object to government-funded research per se but I’m skeptical as to whether large scale government funding of medical research actually results in more research being done. Medicine is a special case—the supply of doctors doesn’t rise as a result of increased funding the way that the supply of electrical engineers rose, for example, as a result of the space program.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Dave,

    As a cancer survivor myself, I don’t have any objections to government helping to fund research. Its helped to keep people alive, and that’s good enough for me. That’s all the cost benefit analysis I need.

    The private sector is the preferred course, but coming from someone who has had plenty of experience in this area, Cancer research is not without the need of more help.

    Bill Jempty
    Malignant melanoma survivor since 1993.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I completely agree, Bill. As I see it the problem is that, if the pool of researchers is fixed (or highly inelastic), more federal money could result in less research being done.

    I’m interested in more research. My question is only the most effective way to promote that.

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  4. C.Wagener says:

    Medical research can be a tricky problem in economics. My wife was a masters candidate in pathobiology 1984 -85. AIDS funding was flooding in and universities applied pressure to their labs to get the research dollars. The lab my wife worked for was involved in leukemia research and moved toward AIDS. The researchers thought it was a bit of of joke since people were dropping their projects to get the AIDS money with what were weak proposals. The scarce resource is indeed the people, not the money.

    AIDS might be a legitimate special case since it was contagious and people knew so little about it at the time. In 1984 it was referred to as HTLV III (human T-cell leukemia virus 3). But it seams too many grants are made due to fads created by politicians and journalists. I would really rather have someone with an M.D., Ph.D. behind their name more influential than Oprah in determining where the dollars go.

  5. Triumph says:

    I’m skeptical as to whether large scale government funding of medical research actually results in more research being done. Medicine is a special case—the supply of doctors doesn’t rise as a result of increased funding the way that the supply of electrical engineers rose, for example, as a result of the space program.

    I am not sure what you are saying here. Medical doctors do very little basic research on the important science relating to medicine. This is done by various specialists in biology.

    On another note–according to the AMA there was a 60% increase in the number of MDs between 1985 & 2005.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    See C. Wagener’s comment above, Triumph. The necessary programs are not perfectly elastic.

    The number of MD’s may have increased between 1985 and 2005 but the number of medical graduates per year did not. It has been nearly constant since 1980. The increase is a result of importing doctors and physicians delaying retirement.

    I think there’s a moral issue in importing doctors, particularly Third World doctors. They’re desperately needed at home and, in many cases, have been educated out of the public purse.

    As to doctors delaying retirement, that probably can’t go on forever and I seem to recall some studies that suggest that it doesn’t result in a particularly good public health outcome.

    In addition there’s a very serious problem on the near horizon: the impending retirement of the Baby Boomer cohort of physicians.

  7. Barry says:

    Dave: “See C. Wagener’s comment above, Triumph. The necessary programs are not perfectly elastic.”

    As to Wagener’s comment – see Era, Dot Com. Massive overinvestment, resulting in (a) companies which should never have seen the light of day receiving truckloads of money, (b) arrogant programmers received a lot of money, and (c) the use of the web spread throughout many economies with blinding speed.

    As I understand it, ‘perfectly elastic’ would mean that doubling the amount of money would double the output, immediately or very quickly. In that sense, of course such programs aren’t. However, increasing the funding will presumably increase research activity (assuming that the laws of economics hold).

    BTW – a lot of biomedical research is done by Ph.D.’s, not M.D.’s.

    I’ve referred this to Orac, at Respectful Insolence; I’m hoping that he’ll drop in some information about improvements in cancer treatment effectiveness over the past couple of decades.

  8. Barry says:

    Orac has sent a link to a post of his, on this:
    he’s not impressed

  9. spencer says:

    But if you remember all those kids that trained to be electrical engineers in the 1960s spent five years getting their degrees and maybe managed to work as an electrical engineers for a couple of years before being laid off in the early 1970s.

    I agree completely that our current system of financing scientific research through government grants is a highly wasteful process. But if the government were not investigating “blind alleys”
    or other basic research would the private sector do a better job? I suspect no one really knows and most peoples answers would be based largely on their political biases.

  10. Tlaloc says:

    The government has to provide for basic research for the simple reason that no one else can or will step up. Basic research (as opposed to applied) generates no profit. It’s still expensive though, the days of first rate scientists working out of their barns is long over. Private companies by and large don’t have any interest in doing something as speculative as basic research. I work for a company that does an enormous amount of applied research and literally almost nothing for basic. We leave that to the universities.