Specter on Curing Cancer

The Wall Street Journal takes Sen. Arlen Specter to task for claiming Jack Kemp would still be alive if only taxpayers spent more on cancer research.  Not only for the obvious insensitivity of the comment, but for getting the facts wrong.  

Between 1994 and 2006, when Republicans controlled Congress or the White House or both, NIH biomedical R&D spending more than doubled in real terms, jumping to $25 billion in 2003 from about $10 billion in the early 1990s. During the Bush years, it fell slightly after that, though holding relatively constant as a share of discretionary spending. 

Criticizing the modest budget reduction to $23 billion in 2007 (in constant dollars) is thus a little like condemning K2 for not being Mount Everest. Still, Mr. Specter is right to note his consonance with the “Democrats’ approach,” which equates federal funding alone with medical innovation. NIH projects are valuable, but they are far from the only or even main reason that the U.S. is the world leader in new and better treatments for killers like cancer.

Most of the advances in biotechnology and pharmacogenomics that are revolutionizing the diagnosis and treatment of disease are occurring in America. One reason is a research environment that is less centralized, more competitive, tolerant of risk and richer in cash — public, yes, but especially private. Between the 1990s and mid-2000s, more than four times as much medical venture capital was invested in the U.S. than in the European Union.

 This was the same theme of my commentary from 2007 – directed at Governor Rendell – that Higher Taxes Won’t Cure Cancer.  The basic idea was that taking money out of the private sector, that could be used for cancer research or other causes,  and giving it to government to dole out is unwise.

Politicians like Rendell and Specter think that they are best suited to decide how to spend other people’s money, nothing will happen.  We believe that individuals and private sector actors – using their expertise and spending their own money – will invest more wisely that those making decisions based on politics.  And for the record, our position is the mainstream position – Rendell and Specter are the “extremists”.