Although the link between smoking and cancer seems obvious to us now, in the early 1990s it was a big fight to get tobacco companies to admit that their product can harm health. After a lengthy legal battle, tobacco companies agreed to the largest civil settlement in U.S. history: the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.
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CURE and the Tobacco Company Settlement
The settlement was historic and far-reaching. Tobacco companies agreed to pay $206 billion to 46 states and the District of Columbia over the first 25 years.
They also agreed to end marketing to kids and to provide annual payments indefinitely to cover some of the health care costs of smoking-related illnesses. The states involved agreed to devote their payments to reduce tobacco use. However, some states have used the money to fund projects that have nothing to do with tobacco such as paving streets and building factories. Pennsylvania is one of the few states to use settlement money for health-related purposes.
A few years after the settlement, then-governor Tom Ridge signed the Tobacco Settlement Act into law. Among other things, the act allowed the Department of Health (DOH) to use settlement money to create the Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement Program (CURE), which funds health research across the state.
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What Is CURE?
The goal of CURE is to support research that can improve the health of Pennsylvanians. It achieves this goal through funding of broad-based health research, tobacco use prevention and cessation programs, and hospital uncompensated care programs. There are two types of grants that universities, hospitals and nonprofits can apply for:
- Formula — Institutions that receive funding from the National Institutes of Health or the National Cancer Institute (NCI) are eligible for these non-competitive grants.
- Non-formula — These competitive grants are distributed by the DOH. Each year, the DOH assigns a priority for these grants. The 2018-2019 priority is collaborative research on opioid abuse and the overdose crisis.
Through this program, 39 organizations across the state have received funding, and more than 85 patents have been filed for commercial use because of CURE-sponsored research. The settlement money has also generated more than 1,000 health care jobs in Pennsylvania.
Sustainable funding for CURE is essential because not only does it boost the economy, but it provides Pennsylvania citizens with significant health benefits through research and health advances. Without funding, there will be a lack of new cures for long standing and emerging diseases.
CURE at Work at UPMC
Through one of CURE’s grants, UPMC, along with participating institutions, received $5 million for the Big Data for Better Health (BD4BH) project. With increased reporting and the expansion of electronic medical records, hospitals and health providers collect vast troves of data on the health of individuals. When properly analyzed, this data can show trends in health, treatments, and prevention, leading to proactive health care solutions. However, reaching that point requires a lot of people and computing power to sift through the data.
The BD4BH project aims to find better methods to integrate, analyze, and model large volumes of data on people with cancer. Through this effort, researchers expect to produce accurate predictions of outcomes for cancer and develop tailored approaches to care based on the lessons learned.
BD4BH began in 2015 and is a collaboration among 40 researchers at UPMC, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. It’s led by Gregory Cooper, MD, PhD, professor and vice chair of biomedical informatics at the University of Pittsburgh, and Ziv Bar-Joseph, PhD, professor of computational biology at Carnegie Mellon University. Currently, the project is exploring proof-of-principle approaches in preparation for eventual clinical trials.
Smoking continues to be a serious health issue, causing more than 480,000 deaths per year, according to the NCI. It increases the risk not only of lung cancer, but also of other cancers, heart disease, and stroke. The good news is, when you quit smoking, your body immediately begins to repair the damage. Find help to quit smoking through one of UPMC’s smoking cessation classes.