Updated – 9:35 a.m., April 27 – Cancer patients and researchers delivered a message to President Donald Trump and Congress on Wednesday: The $5.8 billion proposed cut to the National Institutes of Health’s budget will compromise research into treatments and cures for cancer.
The advocates gathered at the Bethesda offices of Hope Connections for Cancer Support, a nonprofit that offers support for patients and their families, to speak out against Trump’s proposed cut to the Bethesda-based medical research agency, which would slash 19 percent from NIH’s budget if approved by Congress. Trump proposed the cut in his budget outline in March.
Maryland Democratic Party Interim Chair Kathleen Matthews, who also attended, urged Gov. Larry Hogan to publicly oppose the cut. She said he was “missing in action” in speaking out on behalf of Marylanders who could be negatively affected by Trump’s budget. The president’s proposed budget also calls for large spending cuts at other Maryland-based agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring and the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Derwood.
“I think the governor has been heroic in his own personal fight against cancer and he has reached out to cancer survivors around the state to share his own personal example,” Matthews said, in response to a question from a reporter. “I would expect him to stand up for the really important research that made his cure possible.”
Hogan revealed in June 2015 that he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and five months later he was advised by his doctors that he was in remission.
“I plan to make the most of every single day I am given, and I won’t stop fighting until a cure is discovered for this terrible disease,” Hogan wrote on his Facebook page after completing chemotherapy last year.
Matthews said that, as a Republican, Hogan has an opportunity to influence the Republican Congress and Trump’s administration. She also suggested Hogan could follow the example of Republican Gov. Charlie Bakerof Massachusetts. Baker said in March that Trump’s proposed cut to NIH is “not just bad for Massachusetts, it’s bad for the country.” Baker described the cut as “alarming” and said the research agency is “a fundamental element of what makes this country special.”
Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse responded Wednesday afternoon that Matthews statements were misleading and “her attempt to make this personal is in extremely poor taste.”
“The governor opposes hypothetical federal funding cuts to NIH and the Chesapeake Bay.” Chasse said in an email. “We hope and expect that our congressional delegation will join us in fighting to preserve this funding.”
Mark Gorman, a patient advocate who has battled metastatic melanoma for 20 years, said Wednesday he was “shocked” when he found out about Trump’s proposed cut to NIH.
“The only thing I could figure is there’s a complete lack of understanding about the connection between basic research in biology … and what it takes to deliver improved therapy for people with diseases like cancer,” Gorman said.
He added that he owes his life to NIH.
“Everybody with cancer does,” Gorman said. “NIH is a flagship and has been for over 40 years.”
Lindsay Houff, a spokeswoman for the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, said the country can’t afford to cut NIH funding.
“It’s important that Congress understands that a $5.8 billion cut would mean that research for new treatments and cures would be compromised,” Houff said.
County Executive Ike Leggett told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that county officials met Tuesday with representatives from large federal agencies based in the county to discuss the federal budget outlook and to find out if the county could provide any support in fighting the proposed cuts.
“We’re still somewhat up in the air,” Leggett said. “None of the scenarios look very rosy. There probably will be some deductions, we just don’t know the magnitude.”
NIH employs about 20,000 people at its campus on Rockville Pike. Last month, Bethesda state Dels. Bill Frick, Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman urged Hogan to speak out against the proposed cut to NIH’s budget, noting the state’s economy depends on the jobs the agency provides and the world depends on its research.
Chasse responded at the time that the governor “strongly supports the work done at NIH.”