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How Is Cancer Research Funded In The United States?

From Our Founder

According to a survey conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 73% of Americans believe that the government should be spending more on finding treatments and cures for cancer, even if this means adding to the budget deficit or raising taxes.

Cancer research represents the cornerstone of the prevention, detection, and treatment of this disease in America today. Since its establishment in 1971, the National Cancer Act has led to many advancements, including new screening techniques, better drugs, and more refined surgical practices. However, much remains to be done; we still need more effective tests, treatment options, and new techniques to aid in the fight against cancer.

Cancer research in the United States is mainly funded through federal funding and private sector funding. This blog post will go into more detail about these two forms of funding sources and some other avenues used to support cancer research.

Federal funding

The two most important organizations for receiving and allocating government funds for cancer research are the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The NIH is a subdivision of the United States Department of Health and Human Services that has the primary responsibility for conducting biomedical and public health research. This agency distributes nearly 80% of its annual budget to over 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions throughout the United States (extramural research). At the same time, around 10% of funding is granted to researchers at institutions that are part of the NIH Intramural Research Program – research performed by employees of the government.

The NCI receives a lump sum from the federal budget (approved by Congress) each year. For 2022, the Consolidated Appropriations Act and the 21st Century Cures Act allotted $6.56 billion to the NCI for cancer research, education, and training programs. The NCI operates through a peer-review system that researches promising advances and allocates grants accordingly.

For the year 2020, the NCI allocated its budget as follows:

  • 70.7% for research – cancer causation, detection, diagnosis, treatment, and cancer biology
  • 13.1% for resource development – research staffing, cancer centers, buildings, and facilities
  • 10.3% for cancer prevention and control
  • 6.0% for program management and support

Aside from the NCI, other government institutions involved in cancer research include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Defense (DoD), which is primarily focused on aiding military personnel with cancer.

Is this enough money for cancer research?

More than $6.5 billion sounds like a lot of money. Indeed, in 2021, the NCI saw a funding increase of $120 million compared to the previous year.

However, the last decade didn’t see only an increase in funding but also an increase in the number of grant applications. While the federal budget for cancer research increased by around 20%, grant applications grew by about 50% in the same time frame. This means that a large portion of promising research proposals remains unfunded, leaving the public without new treatment options and pushing away eager, talented cancer researchers.

Additionally, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer research has to be taken into account. As laboratory space and research resources were directed to COVID-19 research, oncology research was left with less funding and fewer resources than before. This loss of research progress and delays threaten to decrease further the future state of cancer treatment, detection, and prevention.

As a result, one may conclude that a little over $6.5 billion is not enough money to tackle cancer research in the United States.

Private sector funding

Aside from federal funds, various cancer research centers also receive support from the private sector. These funds are most often gained through public fundraising, which can be done at various levels of an organization. For example, private companies have their own charity organizations that contribute to cancer research, while major donors or fundraisers also create foundations that exist separately from their main brand.

The two main sources of private sector funding for cancer research are the pharmaceutical industry and non-profit charity organizations.

Pharmaceutical industry

Research indicates that around 20% of global sales of pharmaceuticals belong to oncology pharmaceuticals. The cancer drugs market is expected to grow up to $313.7 billion by 2026.

The pharmaceutical industry funds cancer research in two ways: sponsorship and co-funding. Sponsorship means that pharmaceutical companies provide funding for a specific project but often have little or no participation in the research itself. Co-funding is when the company funds the whole of the research.

Pharmaceutical companies are most likely to sponsor research related to drugs already being developed or research related to drugs that are planned for development under the same company. An obvious goal of a pharmaceutical company is to gain revenue from a new drug, and as such, sponsoring research that has no potential to produce a viable treatment is of little interest.

Currently, the largest pharmaceutical companies included in oncology research in the United States are:

  • Gilead Sciences
  • Incyte
  • Eli Lilly
  • Abbvie
  • Amgen
  • Pfizer
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Merck, and more

Charity organizations

Finally, another crucial avenue of cancer research funding is through charity organizations.

There are many charities that contribute to cancer research, one of which is the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The American Cancer Society is not funded by the US government or a single wealthy corporation or benefactor. It is mainly funded from personal donations who empathize with cancer patients and want to save lives by contributing to the cause.

The ACS is a globally-oriented charity that works in more than 100 countries, providing self-help programs, services for children and teens, group support, educational materials, research studies, and advocacy groups for people affected by cancer. In 2019, thanks to the charitable contributions from people worldwide, ACS was able to invest more than $145.9 million in cancer research.

Other significant charity organizations that fund cancer research include:

Music Beats Cancer

An article like this would not be complete without mentioning our mission at Music Beats Cancer.

Most cancer-fighting technologies do not get a chance to travel from the lab to the patient because they simply are underfunded. This funding gap is referred to as the “valley of death,” where great ideas go to die because they lack the requisite funding required to advance them into real medical treatments.

We aim to close the gap between promising entrepreneurial ideas and successful treatments by enabling charitable crowdfunding to support the advancement of technologies aimed at addressing various aspects of cancer (i.e. treatment, diagnostics, clinical tools, prevention). We do this by leveraging people’s passion for music to encourage fundraising within the music industry and by offering a global platform for professional musicians to raise money directly from their fanbase.

In addition to our multi-faceted approach to cancer research funding, we aim to cultivate a public who is more astute about fighting the war on cancer through biomedical innovation. This is in contrast to the old rhetoric of funding “research for the cure.” Unfortunately, research does not end, it cures itself, rather research leads to innovations that must advance into viable tools and medicines for the clinic. Music Beats Cancer wants to advance public dialogue on how we fight and finance our war on cancer.


Cancer clinical trials and research are funded in numerous ways: through federal funding, pharmaceutical companies, and non-profit charitable organizations.

Pharmaceutical companies fund the majority of the research due to the high-profit incentive from a successful treatment, but also because they have exclusive access to clinical trials that take place within their facilities.

The federal government funds cancer-related medical research in the United States through institutions like the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, and more.

Charitable nonprofit organizations that fund cancer research include: American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, National Breast Cancer Foundation, etc.

Finally, Music Beats Cancer is a distinct type of charity in that it provides an avenue for entrepreneurs who are working on cancer-related technologies to raise funds from the donations of the public.

Please take a look at our ongoing campaigns and donate now to help us win the war on cancer.

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