The White House’s cancer “moonshot” initiative will benefit research across disease groups as changes implemented address systemic issues that hamper research progress, a White House aide said July 19.
“Cancer is a great place to start with the culture change because we’ll be able to see the benefit much more quickly than we can in other diseases where we know far less,” Greg Simon, executive director of the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, said during a webinar. “But you don’t want to wait until those diseases are as mature as cancer in our knowledge and then change the system. You want to change the system now—first for cancer, and then for everybody.”
Simon made his remarks about three weeks after a national summit on the moonshot, the White House initiative led by Vice President Joe Biden to double the rate of progress in cancer treatments and prevention. One of the key aims of the initiative—which both Simon and Biden have mentioned a number of times—is to change the culture of cancer programs that create roadblocks to research and treatment.
On the research side, Simon has called for changes that improve data sharing, streamline the grants process, make clinical trials more patient-friendly, standardize research nomenclature and standardize tissue collection.
Cancer has a few unique characteristics that make research in this field ripe for culture change, Simon said. With more than 200 types of cancers, some of which have a lot of genetic variants, cancer is “a far more complex set of diseases than any other disease,” he said.
“What we used to think of as cancer really doesn’t exist,” Simon said, adding that tools, knowledge and databases are available in oncology research to accelerate the ability to turn cancer into a chronic disease, cure some cancers and “keep cancer from even being a problem” through prevention and early detection.
“Every improvement we make in this cancer moonshot is not going to go away for Alzheimer’s or cardiovascular disease or diabetes,” he said. “It’s going to help accelerate work in those areas as well.”
The webinar was organized by Faster Cures, a center of the Milken Institute, to address what’s next for the cancer initiative.
Road Map for Next Administration
With about six months left in President Barack Obama’s administration, Simon said, the government task force he’s leading is developing a road map of how the next president’s administration can build on their work. The road map, which he said will be released by the end of the year, will include recommendations on the culture and programmatic changes in cancer research and clinical care that need to continue.
“We are convinced the moonshot will continue one way or another,” Simon said, adding that “we have no way of knowing what will happen in the next administration. But we do know that there is an enormous public and private sector interest in continuing this work.”
A blue-ribbon panel to inform the scientific direction of the initiative at the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, will finalize recommendations during a July 20 meeting, panel member Ellen Sigal said during the webinar. Sigal, who is founder of Friends of Cancer Research, said the panel’s recommendations will then go to the National Cancer Advisory Board, which is the parent group of the blue ribbon panel. The board will vote on the recommendations and forward them to the White House. The panel is expected to issue its report in August (10 LSLR 14, 7/8/16).
“We’re very much on schedule, and we’re very excited about the recommendations,” Sigal said.
Bloomberg Philanthropies provides financial support for the moonshot initiative.