“We choose to go to the moon…because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win...” – JFK
On October 19th, 2016 Vice President Joe Biden visited The Edward M. Kennedy Institute located in Boston, MA to discuss The Cancer Moonshot Initiative. I was fortunate enough to attend this event—not to mention move off the waitlist the day before.
While attending the event, I decided to write a mini blog series about The Cancer Moonshot Initiative as well as the speech Joe Biden gave last month. Part 1—what you’re currently reading—will introduce The Cancer Moonshot Initiative. Part 2 will focus on the possibilities of enhancing data sharing, as well as the strides the industry has made towards this aspect of the initiative.
Biden’s opening remarks referenced the early phases of the war on cancer, which started during the Nixon administration in 1971:
“When President Nixon declared the war on cancer in 1971 – it didn’t go far, he didn’t have an army, resources or a clear strategy to win… after 45 years, we now have an army and a clear strategy to move ahead.”
The army Biden is referring to is his task force which consists of academic and community oncologists as well as individuals from pharma, government, and scientific/research communities. (CancerMoonshot2020.org) This level of collaboration will ultimately accelerate research efforts in the pursuit of developing treatments and therapies for patients, additionally improving the ability to detect and prevent cancer. (WhiteHouse.Gov)
Biden didn’t shy away from mentioning the challenges that lie ahead for his large and diverse army. One of the main obstacles Biden alluded to was our inability to break free of the structures and processes that were set up fifty years ago. The audience, myself included, learned the purpose of Biden’s task force is to “break down the silos that exist and that impeded collaboration.” I was somewhat surprised by this statement because politicians are often set in their ways or wary to implement a process which strays from the norm.
Biden described the following scenario in order to illustrate the lack of cooperation and collaboration between organizations and individuals:
Imagine pharmaceutical Company A and pharmaceutical Company B. Both of which have different cancer treatments designed to perform two different tasks. Let’s say researchers found out if you administer Treatment A along with Treatment B …. The cancer cells decreased and the patient was ultimately cured. Here is the dilemma – who will take credit for curing cancer? Neither Company A nor Company B wants to share the spotlight. Only ONE wants to take credit for the medical breakthrough. So who wins?
Unfortunately, in this case the loser(s) are the cancer patients because neither company will come to an agreement and work together. The medical breakthrough that was discovered will never become a reality and researchers will return to the drawing board. Even though Biden painted a grim picture, he still acknowledged the roadblocks that are present within the private and public sectors. Hearing Biden recognize such obstacles gave me hope that change could occur in the coming years.
Although Biden’s discussion was only an hour long, he had more than enough time to mention a few of the key components of The Cancer Moonshot Initiative. The items discussed were:
- Prevention and Cancer Vaccine Development
- Early Cancer Detection
- Cancer Immunotherapy and Combination Therapy
- Enhanced Data Sharing
The rest of the initiative is comprised of Genomic Analysis of Tumor and Surrounding Cells, Oncology Center of Excellence, and Pediatric Cancer…in case you were curious. (WhiteHouse.Gov)
‘Enhanced data sharing’ obviously caught my attention since my 9-5 life focuses heavily on data and data migration projects. As Biden continued to discuss data sharing, I thought of how data could bridge the gap between Pharmaceutical Company A and Pharmaceutical Company B. Biden suggested the ability to share data will eventually “break down barriers between institutions in order to maximize knowledge across the various types of cancer.” So in this case, everyone will win…most importantly the patients.
Biden’s informative and inspiring speech ended with a compelling narrative that is often too common among the family and friends of cancer patients. When a loved one is sick and time has run out, you can’t help but ask for more time. More time to spend with your loved one, more time to perform a new surgery, you just want more time. Unfortunately, as Biden stated, “this is the reality of cancer.” The Cancer Moonshot Initiative along with the many individuals seeking to break down the impending roadblocks, will hopefully put an end to families asking for more time when it has simply run out. Maybe one day families will have infinite time because looking for a cure or trying a new experimental treatment will no longer be necessary.