Vice President Joe Biden delivered his final report Monday on the “Cancer Moonshoot,” reiterating how the U.S. is at an “inflection point” in the fight against cancer. He cited reasons to be hopeful, even as he acknowledged challenges ahead in the drive to achieve a decade of progress on fighting cancer in five years.
President Barack Obama launched the Cancer Moonshot in January and tasked Biden with overseeing the initiative to double the pace of cancer research. Monday's report laid out a strategy to do so, organized into five strategic goals: catalyzing scientific breakthroughs, maximizing the power of data, bringing new therapies to patients more rapidly, improving prevention and diagnosis, and enhancing access and care for patients.
The report (PDF) also detailed achievements under the moonshot so far, such as public-private partnerships to share data, the fast-tracking of patent applications for cancer therapeutics and other collaborations to catalyze research and evaluate new therapies.
“Never before have so many government agencies come together—committing their leadership and uniting their focus—to tackle the challenges along the spectrum of cancer research and care to improve outcomes for patients,” the report said. “A coordinated effort can dramatically accelerate the pace of progress in the fight against cancer.”
In delivering his report to Obama, Biden hailed ongoing efforts—cross-disciplinary research collaboration, technological advances that had spurred unprecedentedly effective therapies and the power of big data to uncover answers previously obscured— as already having led to progress.
Still, Biden warned in his statement to the president, “There is a lack of coordination among efforts, a failure to share information both rapidly and effectively, and an antiquated culture of research and funding.”
Currently, incentives reward individual rather than group success, while recruitment and retention for clinical research trials remain weak. Sharing medical records while protecting patient privacy is another hurdle, as is the equitable distribution of information related to cancer treatments, diagnostics and clinical trial across the country, he said.
Questions of funding, meanwhile, raise concerns about progress in the long term. The White House devoted $1 billion to the initiative, but it has called that amount and funding from the Defense Department, Veterans Affairs and other government departments “an initial down-payment” that would require the cooperation of Congress in continuing to provide resources.
Congress has yet to approve additional funding for cancer research efforts for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The 21st Century Cures Act, which would put nearly $9 billion over the next five years into funding new medical research, awaits a vote in the Senate, after passing the House last year.
The outcome of November's elections could also shape the moonshot's future. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has said she would "take up the charge" on cancer research; Republican nominee Donald Trump has not commented.
Accompanying Biden's report Monday were several announcements of partnerships between the public and private sectors.
The National Cancer Institute, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft are expected to announce a collaboration to store cancer genomic data in the cloud, for instance. The ride-hailing app Lyft, meanwhile, said it would expand its Treatment Transport program from its base in Boston to more than 200 cities by 2020. The program provides patients, especially those from low-income communities, with credit for free transport.
Biden credited the numerous components of the Cancer Moonshot—most notably, a national summit he convened in June—with igniting a national conversation among healthcare providers, in local communities and within the private sector about cancer and spurring efforts to accelerate research, deepen prevention initiatives and expand access to care.