Can we cure cancer by 2020? Cancer Moonshot says yes, with cross-sector support

blogimage_CancerMoonshot“Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer,” President Barack Obama stated in the last State of the Union address of his presidency. “For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.” In the just over two months since this speech, Biden has made progress on this front, with the creation of the Cancer Moonshot 2020 Task Force, which focuses on bringing together federal funds, existing private sector efforts from industry and philanthropy, patient engagement initiatives, and other programs supporting cancer research. The initiative aims to accelerate progress in finding a cure for cancer, making more therapies available to more patients, and improving the ability to detect and prevent cancer.

In a recent piece in Bloomberg View, Biden and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg highlight the importance of partnerships in completing this ambitious work: “We recognize that while the U.S. government has tremendous resources at its disposal, we also know a lot of our best expertise exists outside the government, within the private medical and research community.” They explain that, with the advances in science and technology that have occurred in this decade, now is the time to push forward on finding a cure to cancer, as “we are far closer to major breakthroughs than many people realize.”

Cross-sector collaboration will be key to achieving these major breakthroughs, exemplified by the initiative’s National Immunotherapy Coalition, a public-private partnership consisting of partners from government, the pharmaceutical, biotech, and insurance industries, health care providers, academia, and philanthropy, whose aim is to design, initiate, and complete randomized clinical trials with as many as 20,000 patients by the year 2020. Each partner in the coalition brings unique perspectives, knowledge, and resources. Accruing 20,000 patients, for example, will require the help and collaboration of community oncologists and major medical systems, along with the support of the military health system, says a press release about the NIC. A press release from the White House calls for a “whole-of-government approach,” requiring resources from across agencies, starting with the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs. And foundations and the pharmaceutical industry each bring something important to the coalition, as Greg Simon, Executive Director of the Task Force, explained in an interview on NPR:

“The pharmaceutical industry is very good at clinical trials and marketing, but they tend not to often have the trust of the people they’re trying to help. There are many foundations that want to partner with the pharmaceutical industry to do research into a rare disease that would otherwise not be funded. And the foundations bring money, and they bring patients. But what they don’t have are the scientists to develop the drug.”

Another important aspect of the Task Force will be creating a central repository for data, which will be accessible to scientists, researchers, and physicians, to maximize knowledge among stakeholders, reduce duplication of efforts, and accelerate progress. Committing to information sharing is an important part of the collaborative process, especially for a collaboration tackling such a complex problems, as it gives partners a more comprehensive understanding of the issue and builds trust among partners.

“The original mission to the moon was a government-led, -directed, and -funded initiative,” Biden and Bloomberg explain. “The cancer moonshot will be a true partnership between government, the private sector, academia, and the philanthropic community. … It could prove to be a model for how public-private partnerships can overcome even the most difficult challenges.”