Chancellor Visits Washington to Discuss Cancer Moonshot, Research Funding

By Mike Billings

UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, Vice Chancellor for University Relations Barbara J. French and Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy Keith Yamamoto walk in front of the US Capitol in Washington, D.C.
From left, UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, Vice Chancellor for University Relations Barbara J. French and Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy Keith Yamamoto met with Vice President Joe Biden’s staff and with members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives during their trip to Washington, D.C. Photo by James Kegley

UC San Francisco Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, took the first official trip of his administration to Washington, D.C., last week, meeting with White House officials and key legislators to advance the University’s health science priorities.

Hawgood, who was joined by Keith Yamamoto, PhD, vice chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy, and Barbara J. French, vice chancellor for University Relations, met with Vice President Joe Biden’s staff regarding the National Cancer Moonshot initiative and with members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Meetings were also held with Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health, and representatives of the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. 

UCSF's Keith Yamamoto, Chancellor Sam Hawgood and Barbara J. French meet with Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
From left, UCSF's Keith Yamamoto, Sam Hawgood and Barbara J. French meet with Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. Photo by James Kegley

The trip was an opportunity for the chancellor to discuss UCSF’s stake in national science policy, as one of the top recipients of National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding and a leader in patient care and health sciences education.

“At a time when crucial federal funding is being debated in the Capitol, it is critical that UCSF communicate clearly how our work advances medical breakthroughs and improves the lives of patients,” Hawgood said. “This trip allowed me to meet with legislators and help to advance our message in Washington.”

In Washington, UCSF is viewed as a model for collaboration between academia, industry partners and the government to leverage funding, ideas and expertise to turn basic discoveries into better therapies and cures for patients. As a trusted voice on science policy, UCSF has been working with the White House and Congress to find ways to break down regulatory barriers and improve coordination among agencies to help find cures and more effective treatments for cancer and other diseases.

A significant part of the national push to improve cancer treatment and care is the Cancer Moonshot initiative, which has received $1 billion in initial funding from the White House. Biden is leading the initiative, and he visited UCSF on Feb. 27 as part of a national listening tour to better understand the state of cancer research and care.

Hawgood, Yamamoto and French met with Biden’s staff in Washington as a follow-up to the vice president’s UCSF visit. Natalie Alpert, associate director government relations, was also a member of the UCSF team and played a key role in coordinating the visit.

UCSF's Chancellor Sam Hawgood and Keith Yamamoto meet with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in her Washington, D.C. office.
Keith Yamamoto (left) and Sam Hawgood (right) meet with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein in her Washington, D.C., office. Photo by James Kegley

“When Vice President Biden came to UCSF, he asked to follow up on a number of issues that he found interesting, such as how the government can help to reduce regulatory hurdles for cancer studies and how they can encourage patients to share health records for research,” Hawgood said. “We had a productive discussion with his staff, and look forward to continuing to offer our expertise as the Cancer Moonshot initiative moves forward.”

The Chancellor’s meetings with lawmakers included conversations around the importance of federal funding of biomedical research, which is critical to institutions like UCSF that are at the forefront of work in precision medicine, cancer research and neurological research.

This week’s trip coincided with congressional debate about funding for the NIH. While there is bipartisan consensus that additional NIH funding is necessary to sustain scientific advances, Democrats and Republicans differ on whether annual increases should be mandatory or subject to congressional appropriations each year.

The funding up for debate includes support for some of the largest national health initiatives, including the Cancer Moonshot initiative, the Precision Medicine Initiative and the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative – all of which involve UCSF researchers.

UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood talks with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and members of her staff in her office in Washington, D.C.
UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood (center) speaks during a meeting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (third from right), D-Calif. Photo by James Kegley

In addition to meetings at the White House, the chancellor met with a number of Congress members, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.; Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif.; and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.

“We are at an inflection point,” said Yamamoto. “UCSF researchers have already shown that breakthroughs will come if we share and aggregate data, break down funding silos, and find ways to collaborate across disciplines. We’re taking that message to Washington, and it is really resonating with policymakers.”