Survey: Americans say cancer should be top priority for medical research

In a survey sponsored by the pharma industry, Americans revealed their biggest health concerns and desires for medical breakthroughs. The results come amid government budget squeezes to agencies such as the NIH and FDA that advocates say could stifle the delivery of innovative medicines to patients.

Cancer took the top spot among diseases in need of new therapies in the eyes of Americans, with 86% of survey respondents supporting hunts for cures against more types of malignancies. Heart disease came in a close second as 78% of survey takers voiced their desire for better treatments for the condition. And three out of four respondents endorsed the need to combat obesity and improve care for the elderly.

The results come from 1,219 Americans who took the survey sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), whose members poured $48.5 billion into research in 2012. The survey aims to take the pulse of the public's gravest medical concerns and feelings about their own health. A press release from PhRMA offered limited information about the demographics of the survey respondents.

Americans fear their two biggest killers: heart disease and cancer. Heart disease killed 597,689 people in the U.S. and cancer 574,743 people in 2010, making them the two leading causes of death among Americans, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The industry's survey results also buttress pharma companies' spending priorities in research and development, with drug companies studying cancer more than any other disease, in part because of the wide variety of genetic abnormalities in tumors and large number of affected organs.

Nevertheless, sequestration in the U.S. government has made advocates concerned about potential threats to funding for medical research. In May the NIH underscored that its 2013 budget of $29.15 billion fell 5% from the previous year's spending plan. That limits grants for basic research and development of new medicines for cancer, heart disease and many other ailments for which Americans want cures.

"A patient-centric dialog is crucial to improving health outcomes," said PhRMA CEO John Castellani in a statement. "The Health Survey findings will help also inform efforts to address major health challenges such as chronic disease, improved prevention and wellness activities and enhanced patient adherence to prescribed therapies."

- here's the release