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The Cancer Moonshot 2020: Then, Now & the Future

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Over a year ago, former Vice President Joe Biden announced the Cancer Moonshot 2020 Initiative. This undertaking represents a multi-year, one-billion-dollar effort to cure cancer in all its various forms, including rare forms of the disease. Since its launch, patients, caregivers, doctors, cancer centers, regulators and other interested parties have been hard at work to drive cancer research and treatment forward in a four-year race to beat the disease. 

The initiative provides new hope, with a big focus on targeted immunotherapy, which allows for tailoring treatment to each patient’s unique case. Together, with the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center we’ve highlighted some key events in the Cancer Moonshot initiative to date, and taken a look at what’s yet to come.

The birth of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative

In January 2016 during President Obama’s final State of the Union address he called on his Vice President, Joe Biden, to help make America “the country that cures cancer once and for all.” The name purposefully evokes feelings of The Space Race in the 1960s. Similar to Kennedy’s call to get America to the moon first, Obama and Biden are called on those in the scientific community and all Americans to pull together to cure cancer. Even after funneling billions of dollars into research, up to half of American men and one third of all American women will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes - this initiative aims to put an end to this harrowing fact.

The formation of the Blue Ribbon Panel was the first step in the process. The Cancer Moonshot task force chose this panel, comprised of experts from a range of scientific fields, cancer advocacy organizations, and pharmaceutical companies. The panel was announced on April 4, 2016 and have since met intermittently. In September 2016 the panel released a report that details their plan for 10 transformative research programs that they believe will allow the project to achieve a decade's worth of progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in just 5 years. 

The state of the Cancer Moonshot now

The Cancer Moonshot is formally off and running and the groundwork has been placed allowing for the necessary research to take place. In an effort to inspire and enable others to take part in this massive goal, the Blue Ribbon Panel is now offering funding for research opportunities which align with the Cancer Moonshot initiative. The amounts offered will be increased in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. 

Additionally, the National Cancer Institute announced their effort to allow researchers access to new drugs more quickly for preclinical or clinical trials. Expediting this process could lead to faster developments for all kinds of cancers - including rare cancers such as mesothelioma. The NCI’s formulary  is a prime example of the kinds of interorganizational collaboration the moonshot is facilitating. The formulary is a partnership between the NCI, biotechnology companies, and pharmaceutical companies to create a list of agents available for clinical trial use. Before the implementation of this system researchers were often in the negotiation process with pharmaceutical companies for up to 18 months before being able to start their trials. 

The ability to access data in a more streamlined fashion is also key to expediting these trials. The National Cancer Institute’s Genomic Data Commons has enhanced accessibility to clinical trials for patients, and enables easier access to the data from those trials for doctors, scientists and researchers so that they can make better informed decisions about future treatment plans. Treatments are often determined on a case by case basis-- making easy access to information relating to similar cases paramount to finding cures and personalizing treatments. Mesothelioma, for example, affects approximately 3,000 people annually. With smaller numbers than other cancers, the data collected in every clinical trial is crucial for advancements in care.

The Cancer Moonshot is also collaborating with both Amazon and Microsoft to build a sustainable model for maintaining cancer genomic data in the cloud. 

It’s worth remembering that all these advancements are a lost cause if they cannot be effectively implemented at the patient level. The Cancer Moonshot is addressing this issue through strategic partnerships, such as working with Lyft and Uber to support affordable, reliable medical transportation for cancer patients. Many patients miss or reschedule important appointments simply because of transport issues.

What’s next for the initiative aiming to end cancer? 

The latest advancement in the Cancer Moonshot is the National Institute of Health’s collaboration with 11 leading biopharmaceutical companies in the Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT), a five-year public-private research collaboration totaling $215 million as part of the Cancer Moonshot. The initial focus of their efforts will be to identify, develop and validate robust biomarkers to advance new immunotherapy treatments that leverage the immune system to attack cancer. Immunotherapy is the cutting edge of cancer treatment, especially for cancer patients who do not respond well to other therapies. The development and standardization of biomarkers to understand how immunotherapies work in patients, and predict their response to treatment, are needed for these therapies to provide benefit to the maximum number of people.

A new hope for patients, clinicians and researchers 

The Cancer Moonshot Initiative aims to reduce the toxic treatment options that many patients are currently limited to, such as chemotherapy and radiation that decimate the immune system and damage organ linings over time. Whilst also reducing the huge global burden of this pervasive class of diseases. By rallying the immune system to fight off cancer, the Cancer Moonshot promises to fight cancer the way the human body is designed to, allowing patients to survive diagnosis, live, and even thrive with cancer and beyond.