1. Eastman, Peggy

Article Content

WASHINGTON, D.C.- "Cancer uses every tool at its disposal; cancer never gives up, it never surrenders," said former Vice President Joe Biden in kicking off a panel discussion on the promise of the Cancer Moonshot at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), held April 1-5.

Joe Biden; Cancer Mo... - Click to enlarge in new windowJoe Biden; Cancer Moonshot; AACR. Joe Biden; Cancer Moonshot; AACR

And that, Biden said, is why everyone sitting in the packed auditorium needs to work so hard against it. "Our work is nowhere near done," he said. In a statement similar to one from President John F. Kennedy about being unwilling to postpone the adventure of going to the moon, Biden said, "We have to be unwilling to postpone even for a second" progress in the fight against cancer.


In December 2016, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes $1.8 billion over 7 years for the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot. Congress provided the initial $300 million in fiscal year 2017 for the Moonshot as a part of the Continuing Resolution passed in December. Biden's son, former Delaware Attorney General Joseph R. Biden III, called Beau, died of brain cancer at age 46 in May 2015. The Cancer Moonshot aims through acceleration to accomplish 10 years of research advances against cancer in five.


Biden said he has been "overwhelmed" by the American public's interest in the Cancer Moonshot and by international interest, and noted that the Moonshot has "evolved from a program to a movement." He noted that, in addition to hundreds of letters from the public, he received a call from the CEO of IBM asking him if he wanted the company's Watson computer as a partner, and from Amazon offering to store data from The Cancer Genome Atlas, a comprehensive federal effort to accelerate the understanding of the molecular basis of cancer through the application of genome analysis technologies.


"We can do more together than we can by working alone," said Biden, stressing the value of partnerships in the fight against cancer. "The reason I'm going to stay involved is that there's some real significant movement in collaboration."


Biden has announced that he will continue his work through the Cancer Initiative of the Biden Foundation. "It's personal for me. But it's also personal for nearly every American, and millions of people around the world."


Future of Cancer Funding

The former vice president decried President Trump's proposed "America First" budget outline, which would cut $6 billion from the NIH. Calling these cuts "draconian," Biden said that, if it is passed by Congress, it "would set us back by 15 years. This is no time to undercut progress," and he doubts the public would support such a budget or that Congress would pass it.


Cancer Moonshot panelist Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Co-Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Cancer Caucus, reassured the AACR audience that cancer research continues to be a priority in Congress. Funding for cancer research is "fundamental to who we are as the American people," said Yoder, adding, "Cancer knows no political party." Noting he led an effort to mobilize House Republicans on the importance of strong funding for cancer research, Yoder said, "I've called for doubling the NIH budget over the course of a decade."


He noted that strong support of medical research makes monetary sense, since it provides jobs and contributes to economic growth. According to AACR data, in 2016, NIH funding directly and indirectly supported 379,471 jobs nationwide; in 2016, NIH funding and jobs generated by that funding produced $64.799 billion in new economic activity.


In addition to economic growth, Yoder said, robust support of medical research is an issue of fiscal responsibility. "If you want to bend the cost curve on Medicare and Medicaid, cure cancer."


Acting NCI Director Douglas Lowy, MD, also a panelist, said the Cancer Moonshot has helped stimulate more than 50 new projects at NCI. "The NCI can't do this alone," said Lowy, echoing Biden's call for collaboration: "We are interested in partnering." Lowy stressed the need for strong Congressional support for cancer research, stating, "We are always presented with many more proposals than we can fund."


Importance of Continued Research

One of the long-lasting legacies of the Cancer Moonshot initiative may be the establishment of the Oncology Center of Excellence (OCE) at the FDA, said panelist Richard Pazdur, MD, Director of that new center. The OCE is charged with attaining the highest level of oncology expertise and review on cancer-related new product applications. It is also charged with enhancing product regulatory review and communication across FDA's internal centers to accelerate the process of bringing new cancer therapies to market. Pazdur said the center is involved in dialogue with academic centers and is actively examining ways of improving the clinical trial process.


Hopefully, the Cancer Moonshot initiative will help reduce U.S. cancer disparities in cancer care, said Panelist Michael Caligiuri, MD, the 2016-2017 AACR President. "The thing that hits me the most in my heart are cancer disparities," said Caligiuri, who is Director of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. During Caligiuri's AACR presidency he and his team are going to focus on reducing cancer health disparities through such methods as screening, prevention programs, and smoking cessation programs. "I'm excited about this," said Caligiuri, noting that reducing cancer disparities will require collaboration of agencies at the local, state, and federal levels.


In addition, AACR President-Elect and panelist Elizabeth Jaffee, MD, Co-Chair of the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel and Deputy Director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, stressed the importance of clinical trials, and praised the Cancer Moonshot's emphasis on improving the clinical trials process.


Peggy Eastman is a contributing writer.