Greg Simon, a former pharmaceutical executive and congressional staffer who survived cancer, was named executive director of the Obama administration’s “moonshot” cancer initiative, the White House announced Friday.
In recent years Simon has worked as a venture capitalist in the biotechnology and life sciences sector. From 2009 to 2012, he served as a vice president for health care, science and technology policy pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. Simon in 2003 co-founded FasterCures, a Washington research center that is now part of the Milken Institute.
“His background in medical research and his work to engage directly with patients will strengthen our efforts,” said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is overseeing the effort to improve cancer care.
According to the White House, Simon in 2014 was diagnosed and treated for lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer found in the bone marrow and blood.
“As a recent cancer patient myself, I am especially humbled that Vice President Biden has given me the chance through this initiative to help cancer patients all over the world have the successful care and treatments that I received,” he said.
Biden’s son Beau died of brain cancer last year at the age of 46. In January, President Obama tapped the vice president to oversee a federal effort to find a cure for cancer. But despite a warm bipartisan reception to the effort, the administration’s proposed $1 billion request for the initiative drew resistance from congressional Republicans because it would be designated as mandatory funding and potentially tie the hands of congressional appropriators. Until this year’s appropriations cycle is complete, $195 million has been designated for the National Institutes of Health to launch the effort.
Simon’s experience bringing together investors and the health care and patient community could be seen as an asset. In his time at FasterCures, one focus was on making clinical trials needed to bring treatments to the market more efficient, an effort that the NIH and Food and Drug Administration are also currently engaged in.
Groups in the patient advocacy community praised Simon’s appointment.
“Greg Simon has extraordinary experience that is perfectly suited to this position,” said Ellen Sigal, chairperson and founder of Friends of Cancer Research.
In his time on Capitol Hill, Simon was the staff director for investigations in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and later was legislative director for then-Sen. Al Gore, D-Tenn. He went with Gore to the White House in 1993 to serve as the vice president’s chief domestic policy adviser.