US Vice President Joe Biden announced his cancer moonshot program – an initiative backed by an infusion of funding into cancer research – following the death of his son to brain cancer last year. While Biden has already announced he has no plans to run for president in this year’s election, he has vowed to identify the barriers preventing the discovery of a cure for cancer.
After meeting with almost 200 representatives – from oncologists and researchers, to philanthropists – Biden has come to the conclusion that the organization of the many players in the cancer world are to blame for the lack of a cure. “My grandpop used to say, ‘Joey, there’s three kinds of politics’ – church politics, labor politics and regular politics,” Biden reminisced. “Well, there’s four kinds. There’s cancer politics.”
According to Biden, progress within the cancer community is impeded by competition amongst researchers, as well as an aversion to data sharing which prevents one scientist’s discoveries from being built-upon and improved, by another. In order to foster a community of collaboration within cancer research, care and funding, Biden declares that we must “break down silence.”
When asked on Twitter how American citizens could help the cause, he replied, “Demand collaboration from the scientific community.” The Vice President is set to outline some of the specifics of his moonshot initiative at Philadelphia’s Abramson Cancer Center today.
According to Biden’s advisors, as one of his last acts in office he plans to use his position to push information sharing about treatment effectiveness and patient details among clinical research sites, in an effort to foster an environment of innovation. Biden plans to put a focus on immunotherapy-based treatments, which use a precision medicine approach to cancer treatment.
Biden’s announcement of the cancer moonshot program met with some skepticism in the medical community. As cancer comes in a multitude of different forms, an initiative aimed at finding one universal “cure” for the disease is somewhat naïve.
“I’m an eternal optimist, but I’m not going to go around saying we’re going to cure cancer in five years. That’s just not realistic,” said Dr. George Demetri, a Harvard Medical School professor and researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “There’s a fine line between having big, hairy, audacious goals and realistic goals, so the public doesn’t come back and say in five years, ‘Hey, you didn’t deliver on that, pal.’ ”
While survival rates for most cancers are on the rise, almost 1.7 million people are projected to be diagnosed with some form of the disease this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Nearly 600,000 people are expected to die of cancer this year.
“What does ‘cure cancer’ mean? Does it mean prevent cancer? Does it mean nobody dies from cancer? I don’t know about that,” said Republican Senator Roy Blunt, who collaborated with the Democratic Biden to collect $260 million for cancer research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “But I do know that we can enhance dramatically the way we look at cancer, understand cancer and deal with it.”