|January 13, 2016|
Obama's cancer cure 'moonshot'
|President Barack Obama pledged to put America on the path to cure cancer in his final State of the Union speech, and placed Joe Biden, still mourning the death of his son, "in charge of Mission Control" to defeat the disease.|
"For the loved ones we've all lost, for the family we can still save, let's make America the country that cures cancer once and for all," Obama said. He didn't mention Tuesday night that his own mother died of ovarian cancer at 52.
The lofty call for a cancer cure isn't necessarily the impossible "moon shot" that Biden and the president described. The White House is developing a detailed road map for accelerating research, compressing 10 years' worth of work into five, using the National Institutes of Health and private partnerships. Biden has already met with hundreds of the world's top cancer scientists and researchers.
And the NIH is pushing to advance understanding of tumor genetics and build on breakthroughs in immunotherapy. At the same time, the administration is working to expand patient access to costly techniques like tumor sequencing. And Congress has already chimed in with more money for NIH --- one of the few agencies to see an increase in an age of austerity. And they're working on ways to encourage scientists to share more data so collaboration can flourish.
"The science, data, and research results are trapped in silos, preventing faster progress and greater reach to patients," Biden wrote in a blog post published Tuesday evening. He wants to change that. His next stop is a meeting Friday with experts at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center.
"Several cutting-edge areas of research and care --- including cancer immunotherapy, genomics, and combination therapies --- could be revolutionary. Innovations in data and technology offer the promise to speed research advances and improve care delivery."
A big impassioned speech of course can't cure a disease, and Obama's lofty goal echoes Richard Nixon's "War on Cancer" - that began in 1971 and never really ended. Cancer has proven to be a tough foe, and despite years of hope and huge investments, it's still a killer.
But Obama's renewed pledge comes at a time when scientists are making breakthroughs in understanding cancer genetics, and developing new kinds of drugs that are prolonging lives. Jimmy Carter, for instance, recently reported being "cancer free" a few months after starting one of those new drugs at age 91.
The emotional appeal resonated across the aisle -- no matter that State of the Union speeches usually invite immediate partisan attack.
"We have an incredible opportunity before us in 2016 to make a positive and lasting difference in paving the way for more life-saving cures and treatments," House Energy and Commerce chairman Fred Upton said in a statement. "A better future for patients. A better future for their loved ones. The talk of a 'moon shot' is the exact mindset we need - America can and should lead the way."
Some of the scientists who have meet recently with Biden's staff came away encouraged by their preparation and sophistication.
The American Association for Cancer Research President and Chief Medical Officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering José Baselga, who took part one of those meetings, released a statement Tuesday night praising the initiative.
"We have indeed reached an inflection point, where the number of discoveries that are being made at such an accelerated pace are saving lives and bringing enormous hope for cancer patients, even those with advanced disease," he said.
Building on the momentum of the president's vow, Biden plans this month to convene the first of several meetings with Cabinet secretaries and federal agency heads on how to boost federal investments for cancer research.
He said is goal is not just to speed new research but to get treatments to patients.
"Right now, only 5 percent of cancer patients in the U.S. end up in a clinical trial," he wrote.