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Press Release - Dr. Coburn Warns Against Politicalization of Cancer Research

Location: Washington, DC

Press Release - Dr. Coburn Warns Against Politicalization of Cancer Research

Says putting Congress in charge of research, as head of National Breast Cancer Coalition advocates, would compromise science and delay cures

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), a practicing physician, released the following statement urging his Senate colleagues to resist calls from special interest groups to take research authority away from scientists and put it in the hands of politicians.

"Federal research dollars should go to the science that will save the most lives, not the lobbyists or politicians who make the most noise. Bills like S. 757 that would take research authority away from scientists at the National Institutes of Health and put it in the hands of members of the congressional appropriations committees would set a dangerous precedent," Dr. Coburn said.

"The lobbying campaign led by former Clinton appointee and president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, Fran Visco, has crossed a line with its distortions and attack ad style rhetoric," Dr. Coburn added. "Suggesting that I want to see women ‘drop dead' of breast cancer, as Visco wrote in a blog, or claiming that breast cancer is ‘not part of my world' are uninformed personal attacks against my patients and my family."

"I have had family members die of breast cancer. I currently have a sister and sister-in-law with breast cancer. I am a practicing physician who has treated women with breast cancer. I am also a two-time cancer survivor. Visco's vitriolic rhetoric is an embarrassment to the breast cancer victims she claims to represent. Organizations like the National Breast Cancer Coalition should serve breast cancer victims and sound science, not the personal partisan political agenda of its leader," Dr. Coburn said.

According to Federal Election Committee records, Visco has contributed thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry since 1999 but has not contributed to any Republicans. In 2004, Visco was paid $184,867 to represent the interests of all breast cancer victims, both Democrat and Republican.

"My office has clearly expressed my concerns with S. 757 to Visco and her organization, contrary to her claim that she ‘does not understand why' I oppose its passage by unanimous consent. I have also clearly communicated to her organization that I will support this legislation if one word in the bill was changed to say that NIH ‘may' conduct this research instead of dictating that they ‘shall' conduct this research. S. 757 is politics driving research instead of the NIH's peer-reviewed process driving research," Dr. Coburn said.

"The fact is, NIH already has the authority to study possible environmental causes of breast cancer and is conducting that research to the tune of $100 million per year. It's also important to note that the $690 million NIH is spending every year on all forms of breast cancer research is almost twice as much as any other area of cancer research. Colon cancer, for example, claims 40 percent more lives every year than breast cancer but we spend nearly twice as much on breast cancer research," Dr. Coburn said.

"Everyone with cancer deserves research that can save the most lives with the best use of research dollars - whether it's an adult with breast cancer or a 4-year-old with leukemia," Dr. Coburn said. "However, when Congress picks winners and losers on the basis of politics, not science, cures are delayed and all Americans suffer. The bottom line is that this bill does nothing that isn't already being done, but allows Washington politicians running for re-election and lobbyists to take credit for the research that we are already funding," Dr. Coburn said.

Dr. Coburn added that it is dishonest to suggest that he is single-handedly blocking a bill that has unanimous support in Congress. U.S. Representative Joe Barton (R-TX), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who also opposes the legislation, has said, "We have to say ‘let the NIH be the NIH' and stop attempting to micromanage, even with the best of intentions."

"I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the next Congress on finding ways to promote sound cancer research, such as legislation, H.R. 6164, that will modernize NIH. As the composition of the Senate changes next year and new members focus on breast cancer research and all forms of cancer research I hope science will prevail over politics," Dr. Coburn said.

As a member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Coburn supported doubling NIH's budget, co-sponsored the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act that ensures treatment for women diagnosed with breast and cervical cancer, and was one of only 10 co-sponsors of the Stamp Out Breast Cancer Act that raised $35 million for breast cancer research.

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