Gore Promises 'Historic' Boost to Cancer Research

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Casting a spotlight on science, Vice President Al Gore went coast to coast today to unveil plans to boost federal R&D funding in 1999. Here at the Executive Office Building this morning, Gore announced that the president's new budget--scheduled for release on 2 February--will provide "the single largest increase in cancer research in history."

Gore said the president seeks a whopping 65% rise in federal cancer research funds over the next 5 years. The first installment will come this year, he said: The Administration aims to boost the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $1.15 billion, 8.5% more than this year's $13.6 billion budget. Says Donna Shalala, secretary of health and human services, who also spoke at the meeting, "The leaders of NIH are ecstatic."

NIH basic research isn't the only beneficiary in the package. Gore also announced a $750 million project at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to help pay for clinical trials and a $25 million increase in disease prevention research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The NCI project, says director Rick Klausner, is a 3-year experiment in which Medicare patients with cancer will be reimbursed for costs associated with participating in trials of experimental drugs and therapies.

After the briefing, Gore flew to the West Coast, where he met with business leaders at the biotech firm Genentech Inc. of South San Francisco. There he offered a few more tidbits from the president's budget, including a proposed 10% increase for the National Science Foundation and a 1-year, $2.2 billion extension of the tax credit for corporate R&D investments.

All the Administration's science pledges, Gore said, are part of a package it is calling the "21st Century Research Fund." In a later briefing, Shalala--who skirted details--disclosed that the 21st Century Fund is based on the assumption that litigation against tobacco companies will soon be settled and will provide new federal revenue. The tobacco agreement is pending in Congress, where it faces an uncertain fate. "If the tobacco legislation fails," Shalala said, the Administration will still fight for research increases: "We will have to make other offsets" to finance them, she said.