Mystery Congressional champion adds melanoma to DoD-CDMRP research grant portfolio

My long absence from home and the blog was followed yesterday by my lying on the floor and going through accumulated mail. These quiet times for “literature review,” such as preparing the recycling and walking back from the mailbox, frequently provide me with blog fodder.
So I read with interest yesterday an Oncology Times article by Eric T Rosenthal from late last month on the Congressional appropriation of $4 million USD toward melanoma research:

Following passage by the House and Senate, and signing by President Bush, melanoma joined breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers as the only ones singled out for funding through the DoD’s US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC)-the pot of money originally discovered by the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) in 1992 when National Institutes of Medicine research funding was capped. (Also included in the program at one time was chronic myelogenous leukemia, but that is not currently funded, a DoD spokesperson said.)
The $4 million was part of a bill providing for a total of $16 million for peer-reviewed cancer research programs not currently included in the DoD’s portfolio.

For readers not familiar with the DoD biomedical research grant programs, the CDMRP funds are an add-on to the DoD’s traditional research program:

The Office of Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) is funded through the Department of Defense (DoD), via annual Congressional legislation known as the Defense Appropriations Act. For most programs, the DoD sends a multi-year budget request to Congress in the form of the President’s Budget. However, dollars for the CDMRP are not considered part of the DoD’s core mission, and are therefore not included in the DoD’s requested budget. Rather, the dollars to fund CDMRP are added every year during the budget approval cycle by members of the House or Senate, in response to requests by consumer advocates and disease survivors.

While $4 million is a drop in the bucket as compared with the $138 million FY08 CDMRP breast cancer appropriation, one can expect funding for this melanoma initiative to expand rapidly: the majority of the 130-140K soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are at relatively high risk for developing melanoma over the next 20 years and will seek care in Veterans Administration Medical Centers.
I’m always excited to see new research funding for any area of cancer, although we don’t work in melanoma per se. What I found somewhat more interesting instead was that no one knows, yet, exactly who championed the appropriation. Chairman of the Melanoma Research Foundation, C. Randy Lomax, explains:

We were operating under the principle that we would clearly have to identify a champion [in Congress], but we never identified that one champion, Mr. Lomax said. We approached lots of people from the cancer coalition, including [co-chairs] Senator Sam Brownback [R-KS] and Senator Dianne Feinstein [D-CA], and Senator Edward M. Kennedy [D-MA], but it was very serendipitous, and we don’t know who was responsible for adding melanoma. . .
. . .Mr. Long said that he and others approached other members of Congress in addition to the senators mentioned earlier, including Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Congressman Dave Obey (D-WI).
I don’t know who did this for us, but someone put it in. I can’t tell you who the champion was, but it was a product of all that effort. It was a case of we threw it up against the wall and somebody grabbed onto it.

The article went to press well before the US presidential election so I was immediately thinking that the three-time melanoma survivor, Senator McCain, might have been behind it. But I am likely to be wrong, as Rosenthal noted:

Ironically, several sources speculated that if Senator McCain were elected, that he would be likely to shut down the DoD program because he has said he is opposed to earmarks and targeted appropriations.

We all have our reasons for working in this crazy business, many of us because family or friends have suffered with a certain disease.
So, in the name of a musical mentor claimed by malignant melanoma, I send out my support to any melanoma researchers who will compete for these funds and the mystery Congressperson who planted this seed.

[Erratum: This post originally listed the incorrect middle name of Chairman of the Melanoma Research Foundation, C. Randy Lomax. The author regrets this error and it has been corrected.]

One thought on “Mystery Congressional champion adds melanoma to DoD-CDMRP research grant portfolio

  1. Much credit for melanoma research DOD dollars is certainly due to Charlie Dent, Congressman from the Lehigh Valley, PA and the Melanoma International Foundation. We worked closely with Charlie who recently lost his father in law to melanoma. He pressed for the DOD dollars and now we anxiously await their dispersal to we hope, very ambitious researchers. Thanks you for blogging on this very important topic.

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