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What’s Next for the Cancer Moonshot Initiative?

What’s Next for the Cancer Moonshot Initiative?
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Published on February 4, 2021

Cancer Moonshot Initiative Goals for 2021

Imagine trying to do in five years what is normally accomplished in 10. That’s what the Cancer Moonshot initiative aimed to do with advancements in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Launched by former President Barack Obama during his 2016 State of the Union, the initiative was led by former Vice President Joe Biden, in collaboration with leading cancer organizations and experts.

Under Biden’s leadership, the Cancer Moonshot Task Force and the Blue Ribbon Panel developed a roadmap of research priorities to achieve the initiative’s goals.1 Their initial work led to the United States Congress passing the 21st Century Cures Act in December 2016. This authorized $1.8 billion in funding for the Cancer Moonshot initiative over the next seven years.

The goal of Moonshot was to create new cancer therapies and improve cancer care delivery by incorporating the crucial input of patients and building a massive team of research scientists, oncologists, pharmaceutical companies and other industry experts.

Some of the initiatives of interest to patients with cancer included:

  • Establishing a network for direct patient engagement (patients can opt to contribute their tumor profile data to expand knowledge about what therapies work).
  • Creating pediatric and adult immunotherapy networks.
  • Minimizing side effects of cancer and its therapies.
  • Prevention and early detection of inherited cancers.
  • Expanding the use of prevention and early detection strategies for all cancer types.

Thus far, Cancer Moonshot has brought 240 research projects to fruition. Improvements in immunotherapies, childhood cancers, tumor identification and early detection all happened during this time. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed some efforts, many projects are still in progress and there is much to look forward to in the coming months and years.

Cancer Moonshot Funding

President Biden is expected to revive the Moonshot initiative and keep the momentum going. While waiting to see what action Biden will take, three researchers from the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research — one of whom was on Biden’s Blue Ribbon Panel — have outlined their vision of a Moonshot 2.0 for The Lancet Oncology.2

These are the research areas the team identified as priorities:

  • New technologies that enhance personalized medicine.
  • Innovations that link the molecular structure of cancer pathways to more effective drugs (e.g., therapies that target the KRAS mutation in lung cancer).
  • New drug delivery systems that target antibodies, nanotechnologies and microchips.
  • Enhanced molecular imaging, which targets cancer cells and is sensitive enough to identify premalignant or early malignant cells that are treatable.
  • Non-invasive liquid biopsies (blood) that can be used to screen high-risk individuals to better identify precancers and early cancers.

“We have a long way to go to lessen the burden of cancer worldwide,” the authors wrote. “To achieve the true Cancer Moonshot vision for improved care of and outcomes for patients with cancer, efforts must be scaled up, redoubled, and accelerated. Most importantly, the advances in care these efforts will generate must be representative of, and accessible to, all Americans — regardless of age, gender, race, and ethnicity.”

A Personal Cancer Connection

The Moonshot initiative is near and dear to President Biden’s heart as he lost his son, Joseph (Beau) Biden III (46), to brain cancer in 2015. Beau was an Iraq War veteran and a Bronze Star recipient who served as the Attorney General of Delaware. His diagnosis occurred after he had a stroke which led to a bevy of tests and a conclusive diagnosis of glioblastoma, one of the most common brain cancers.

Going forward, research such as this can not only improve care for people enduring all cancer types in areas near well-established cancer centers, but also for patients in challenged socioeconomic areas who have received a disproportionately lower benefit from advances in cancer prevention, early detection and innovative treatments.

~Lauren Evoy Davis

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1National Cancer Moonshot Initiative. American Association for Cancer Research.

2Agus DB, Jaffee EM, Dang CV. Cancer Moonshot 2.0. The Lancet Oncology. 2021.

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