Famous Prostate Cancer Survivors Lobby Congress

Using tactics that paid off earlier for AIDS patients and breast cancer survivors, a trio of famous men who have had prostate cancer appeared on Capitol Hill today to lobby for more research on their disease. Former Senate majority leader Bob Dole, New York Yankees baseball manager Joe Torre, and junk bond impresario Michael Milken--now the head of a national anticancer movement called CaP CURE--made a pitch for increasing the budget of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Speaking at the same hearing--held by the Senate appropriations subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education--NCI director Richard Klausner said he agreed in principle with the lobbyists. NCI has already increased prostate cancer research funding from $87 million in 1998 to $141.5 million this year, Klausner said; in addition, he released a 62-page "professional judgment" plan that calls for even more growth, with increases of 50% in 2000 and 27% in 2001.

Other health activists may have had a hard time finding an audience, but this group received the red-carpet treatment. The subcommittee chair, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), welcomed his former party leader Dole as a witness and invited the current chair of the full appropriations committee, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), to join the spectacle as a guest interrogator. Stevens, himself a prostate cancer survivor, attempted to make the National Institutes of Health (NIH) set aside a large pot of money for prostate cancer research last year, but was persuaded by Specter and others to drop the proposal. During today's hearing, Stevens peppered the government witnesses with questions, like why NIH is constructing new buildings with money that might have been spent on research. NIH director Harold Varmus explained that the buildings are replacing obsolete structures. And Klausner tried to demonstrate that in its new research plan, NCI is already doing everything the famous advocates would have wished.

But Milken, for one, wasn't satisfied. In his closing statement, he said the nation's investment in biomedical research is almost an order of magnitude too small, and NCI's current budget of roughly $3 billion a year--"about one-seventh of what Americans spend on beauty products"--should be increased to at least $10 billion. He even suggested some new strategies for raising the money; for example, the government could issue "war bonds" for the war on cancer. Said Milken: "I'd buy $50 million of them myself."