Will Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Survive the Trump Administration?

By Kim Smuga-Otto | February 2, 2017 1:21 pm

Simon speaks during the Precision Medicine World Conference, which was held recently in Mountain View, CA. (Credit: PMWC) 

President Donald Trump’s administration has placed programs initiated during Barack Obama’s tenure as president, even those with bipartisan support, on unsure footing. However, the cancer moonshot may have the critical momentum needed to achieve its goals.

Former President Barack Obama announced the initiative at his final State of the Union Address with the goal to accelerate cancer research; to achieve in five years what was anticipated for 10. Speaking before the World Economic Forum on Jan. 16, Biden said it was his “prayer” that Trump would continue the program.

Moonshot: Waxing or Waning?

Last week, the moonshot’s former executive president, Greg Simon, expressed optimism that the initiative, which will be funded through 21st Century Cures Act will stick around—the Senate passed it with a 94-5 vote. Simon will continue to run the program under former Vice President Joe Biden’s leadership in its new form as a nonprofit, tentatively to be renamed the Biden Cancer Initiative (the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force exited the building with Obama on Jan. 20).

In June 2016, 400 scientific experts, clinicians and cancer patient advocacy groups gathered for workshop sessions at Howard University to identify key areas that, if developed, could accelerate cancer therapies. The recommendations, for which the National Institutes of Health will award $1.8 billion in grants over the next seven years, will channel funds toward improving research, prevention and therapies.  While Congress will still appropriate the funds, the money can only be spent on moonshot projects. “They’d be fools to not use it,” said Simon. Other inter-agency projects will continue within the government “until the time or money runs out,” he said.

“I had not spoken with anybody from the transition,” Simon told The Cancer Letter in a Jan. 13 interview. “There has not been any formal meeting with the moonshot team that I’m aware of. That said, obviously, there’s a lot of interest in the moonshot, Republicans and Democrats.” It’s also unclear how Trump’s executive order, which requires two regulations to be eliminated for each new one created, might affect provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act.

Gathering Data

Another key to the moonshot’s success will be opening access to databases of information collected from tumor biopsies and other tests that are stored in individual hospitals and universities.

“We still talk about migrating data from this hospital to that hospital, as if you’re putting it on a wagon train and sending it out West,” Simon said.

The proposed National Cancer Data Ecosystem would serve to collect and standardize cancer data, allowing researchers to examine complete datasets, beyond what is published in the scientific literature. Simon said this cooperation could be encouraged by a proposed regulation at the NIH that National Cancer Center designation be contingent on secure sharing of clinical data and anonymized medical records.

“Data sharing is not the answer to everything, but hoarding data is the answer to nothing,” says Simon.

Another goal is to create a database of liquid biopsy results. This emerging technology captures free-floating cancer DNA shed by both blood cell and solid tumor cancers and allows for identification and monitoring through basic blood draws instead of invasive biopsies. Standardizing sample collection, testing and storage, as well as managing metadata, like the patient’s response to treatment, attached to the samples are still challenges to address. Beyond direct NIH funding, commercial ventures have also committed their time and expertise to develop resources that benefit the public and create marketable products.

“Ultimately, the group seems to be breaking out to form its own identity,” said Bruce Press, a senior vice president at Seven Bridges, a company that’s providing the biomedical data analysis platform for the project. The FDA will continue to be involved with the work, and its cooperation should ease approval for any diagnosis tests developed.

In exchange for access to tumor biopsy samples, the Department of Defense’s Walter Reed Institute of Research will sequence the tumors for free. IBM’s artificial intelligence system, Watson, will scour the published science papers to propose treatment options based on each cancer’s mutations.

When the project was announced, David Shulkin, Department of Veterans Affairs undersecretary for health, publicly praised it. “It’s going to result in different treatment options and better decisions, and making sure every veteran is getting world-class cancer care,” he told the Military Times in June 2016. Shulkin has been nominated to be the secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs by Trump.

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  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Biden’s Cancer Moonshot” The 1971 National Cancer Act is 46 years of the War on Cancer. Let’s skip the moonshine and directly build the Cancer Starship.

    Footnote #1: Matter-antimatter annihilation only delivers half the paper energy output. The other half is in neutrinos that ghostily fly away. So the Cancer Starship funding.

  • OWilson

    The goal, as announced, is, ” It’s going to result in different treatment options and better decisions, and making sure every veteran is getting world-class cancer care,” The actual goal is more practical and laudable, than the “man on the moon” analogy.

    It may be smart to compare the initiative to a “moonshot” to gin up interest and funding, “Yes we can!, but the Apollo program was already scientifically feasible.

    There is no “cure” guaranteed at the end of this program, no matter how much funding it receives.

    Let’s hope that it is not just another boondoggle money pit like inner city education.

  • Meg

    The official mainstream “war on cancer” has been an unofficial “war” on the unsuspecting public: to keep them misinformed and misguided about the real truth about this “war.” The “moonshot” program is an extension or reincarnation of the enduring deep racket.

    The orthodox cancer establishment has been saying a cure for cancer “is just around the corner” and “we’re winning the war on cancer” for decades. It’s all hype and lies (read Guy Faguet’s ‘War on cancer” or Sam Epstein’s work).

    Since the war on cancer began orthodox medicine hasn’t progressed in their basic highly profitable therapies: it still uses only highly toxic, deadly things like radiation, chemo, surgery, and drugs that have killed millions of people instead of the disease.

    As long as the official “war on cancer” is a HUGE BUSINESS based on EXPENSIVE TREATMENTS/INTERVENTIONS of a disease instead of its prevention, logically, they will never find a cure for cancer. The lucrative game of the medical business is to endlessly “look for” a cure but not “find” a cure. Practically all resources in the ‘war on cancer’ are poured into treating cancer but almost none in the prevention of the disease.

    At the same time, this same orthodox cancer cartel has been suppressing and squashing a number of very effective and beneficial alternative cancer approaches. You probably guessed why: effective, safe, inexpensive cancer therapies are cutting into the astronomical profits of the medical mafia’s lucrative treatments. That longstanding decadent activity is part of the fraud of the war on cancer.

    If the public were to scrutinize what the medical industry and their government pawns are telling them about the ‘war on cancer’ instead of blindly believing what they’re saying, they’d find that the cancer industry and the cancer charities have been dismissing, ignoring, and obfuscating the true causes of cancer while mostly putting the blame for cancer on the individual, denying or dismissing the serious harms from orthodox cancer treatments, and resorting to deceptive cancer statistics to “educate” (think: mislead) the public that their way of treatment is actually successful (read the well referenced epilogue of an article if you google “A Mammogram Letter The British Medical Journal Censored” and scroll down to the afterword).

    What the medical establishment “informs” the public about is about as truthful as what the political establishment (eg Biden, etc) keeps telling them. Not to forget, the corporate media is a willing tool to spread these distortions, lies, and the scam of the war on cancer.

    Do you really think it’s a coincidence that double Nobel laureate Linus Pauling called the ‘war on cancer’ a “fraud”? If you look closer you’ll come to the same conclusion. But…politics and self-serving interests of the conventional medical cartel, and their allied corporate media, keep the real truth far away from the public at large.

    • Randy Elble

      Because of new developments in cancer immunology, funded by that War On Cancer money, a human being was cured of melanoma metastatic to the brain for the first time in history, former President Jimmy Carter. Because of advances in genomic sequencing technology, cancer treatment can be tailored to the individual, and people survive years longer. This just happened to a dear friend of mine. There is a revolution in cancer treatment and people like Joe Biden who have bothered to learn about it realize that more funding will accelerate the pace of discovery and facilitate its translation to the clinic. It’s not just hoopla. It’s a good bet for humanity.


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