Greg Simon, a cancer survivor and former pharmaceutical executive, has been appointed by Vice President Joe Biden as the executive director of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, according to news reports.
Simon, 64, has experience in the private and public sectors. He previously served as senior vice president for patient engagement at Pfizer. Most recently, he was CEO of New York-based Poliwogg, a company that invests in the life sciences sector of healthcare. In 2003, he founded the not-for-profit FasterCures, a center of the Milken Institute that aims to speed up and improve medical research.
In 2014, Simon was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He finished his first round of chemotherapy six months ago, according to the New York Times.
“Greg is undaunted by big challenges,” Margaret Anderson, executive director of FasterCures and acting president and CEO of the Melanoma Research Alliance, said in a press release. “His professional and personal experience will make him a strong and passionate leader to carry out Vice President Biden's vision of accelerating cancer research efforts. Greg is the ideal candidate to identify short- and long-term goals, bring the right parties to the table and cut through red tape.”
Simon has served for the vice president's office before. He was an aide to Vice President Al Gore between 1991 to 1997. He has been critical of the pace of innovation at some federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration.. Simon has testified before Congress regarding the 21st Century Cures Act.
Biden was put in charge of the “moonshot” approach to cure cancer by President Barack Obama in January. Biden's oldest son, Beau, died from brain cancer in May 2015. Biden's goal is to increase data-sharing and make 10 years' worth of advances in five years. The work will include research in immunotherapy, combination therapy, early detection and vaccines to prevent viruses that cause cancer.
The Biden-led task force met for the first time on Feb. 1, and on that same day Obama asked Congress to boost cancer research by $755 million in the 2017 budget. Congress had approved $195 million in new cancer funds this past December. The funds will go toward new programs at the National Institutes of Health and the FDA.
Funding for cancer research in the U.S. has been an issue of late. The National Cancer Institute has lost almost 25% of its budget since 2003. Its budget was increased by $260 million in the recent 2016 budget, but the NCI had requested more funding.