'Best Debt-Reduction Plan Not Yet Considered': Kennedy

As many as one million new cancer patients are diagnosed with cancer each year in the U.S. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been put into cancer research over the past 40 years and death rates have declined about one percent per year. As federal funding is drying up, some wonder if the one percent is worth the cost.

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“If we cut the cancer death rate by one percent, we save about $500 billion,” Dr. John Boockvar, director of the brain tumor research lab at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “That money can go right back into the system of research. It’s a question of investing small amounts of money and getting large return on our investment."

Former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy called biotech investment, “the best deficit-reduction plan that hasn’t been considered.”

Increased investment in the biosciences is critical to the future success of the U.S. as a world leader, Kennedy said. It is also an area that can provide job growth when the funding is properly invested, he added.

The National Cancer Institute’s current budget is $5 billion a year.

“It always comes down to funding,” Boockvar said. “It’s just not enough money for the researchers across the country.”

Franklin Berger, PDL Biopharma senior advisor, said that biotech investment is crucial because medical costs are not going away. “Cancer is a disease of growing older,” Berger said. “The longer we live, the more likely you are to have DNA misrepair and that’s cancer.” He expects this to be a long term trend that the U.S. will face.

Reviewing the history of medical improvements in America, Berger is confident that more funding will lead to a healthier future. He said that while a one-percent per-year decline in the cancer death rate may appear small, there have been massive changes.

“If you break that down and look at the pieces you’ll see dramatic improvements in survival in breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer,” Berger said. These are three of the four most prominent types of cancer. The fourth type, lung cancer, has yet to see such progress.

“Another big quantum leap is cancer being considered a chronic disease, much like HIV,” Berger added. “The old cancer paradigm was cut, burn, and poison. That’s changed dramatically.”

Although progress has been made, there is still room for improvement, Boockvar said. In order to see a greater return on investment in the biosciences, more collaboration is needed, he said.

“The problem with medicine right now is that there is a long delay where a basic idea is translated to our patients at the bedside,” Boockvar said.

Kennedy agreed. “We need to marry the science that’s relevant because it is all research that can inform other areas,” he said, adding that heightened collaboration between researchers would have a “multiplier effect” and extend the reach of funding.

“As a nation, as we hit our fiscal cliff and as we walk the path toward a health-care cliff, we need to decide where our money is going to be spent,” Boockvar said.

Boockvar, Kennedy and Berger agree that more investment in the biosciences is essential to the future success of the U.S.