Alec Stone
Alec Stone MA, MPA, ONS Public Affairs Director

Like all great adventures, it began as an idea. What if the United States could make huge advancements in the fight against cancer in a short amount of time? How could that be accomplished? What are the metrics? How much would it cost? Who could direct such an effort? 

During President Obama’s final State of the Union address in January 2016, he turned to Vice President Joe Biden and asked him to take his years of service, wisdom, connections, and commitment and attempt a moonshot to enhance efforts to treat cancer. Ultimately, the Biden Cancer Moonshot Initiative, as it was dubbed that final year he was the vice president, was to “make a decade’s worth of advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in five years.”

Throughout 2016, the vice president traveled the country, held listening sessions, and brought experts together to find real recommendations to achieve the Moonshot’s stated mission. At many of the events, oncology nurses were literally front and center. From Duke University to the Huntsman Cancer Institute, ONS members added to the understanding of the importance of patient-centered care and symptom management education.

Creating a Base to Grow From

As the Moonshot developed, ONS members joined panels and committees that helped to craft what would become the final recommendations from the National Institute of Health’s Blue Ribbon Panel, which included:

  • Establish a network for direct patient involvement
  • Create a translational science network devoted exclusively to immunotherapy
  • Develop ways to overcome cancer’s resistance to therapy
  • Build a national cancer data ecosystem
  • Intensify research on the major drivers of childhood cancers
  • Minimize cancer treatment’s debilitating side effects
  • Expand use of proven cancer prevention and early detection strategies
  • Mine past patient data to predict future patient outcomes
  • Develop a 3D cancer atlas
  • Develop new cancer technologies

According to ONS Chief Executive Officer Brenda Nevidjon, MSN, RN, FAAN, “Vice President Biden values nurses as he and his family have had an intimate view of what nurses do.” Biden demonstrated this by appearing at the Society’s first annual Hill Days advocacy event in Washington, DC, in 2016. 

21st Century Cures Act

On December 7, 2016, the U.S. Senate, during a special post-election session, passed the 21st Century Cures Act in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 94-5. It was a high point and saw substantial increases in allocations to several federal agencies across the government that would concentrate on moving the needle in the cancer arena. In particular, the National Institutes of Health received a boost of $1.8 billion specifically for the Biden Cancer Moonshot.

The Future of the Moonshot

Since Joe and Jill Biden have left government service, they have created the Biden Foundation, and its offshoot, the Biden Cancer Initiative (BCI). 

In July 2018 at ONS’s annual Leadership Weekend, Chase Jones, community partnerships and operations advisor at BCI, spoke to a packed room on his role, vision, and personal experiences as a college student who survived brain cancer. He asked for ONS’s continued support and lauded oncology nurses for their unwavering commitment to their patients. He received a standing ovation from ONS chapter leaders.

Federal investment in the Moonshot continues through legislative allocations. The U.S. House of Representative’s Energy and Commerce’s Health Subcommittee held a hearing on July 25, titled “21st Century Cures Implementation: Updates From FDA and NIH.” At the public meeting, Committee Chair Michael C. Burgess, MD (R-TX), said, “The innovation and promising results of efforts included in Cures will certainly provide Americans suffering from cancer and other diseases with the opportunity to undergo successful treatments, and in some cases, to be cured.”

BCI is poised to transform cancer care as we know it. The Institute is “fueled by urgency; we stand on behalf of every patient, every family, every community having to deal with a cancer diagnosis and the complex and confusing maze they must navigate thereafter.” Oncology nurses are an integral part of that process. 

ONS immediate past president, Susan M. Schneider, PhD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN, a BCI board member, said, “As the only nurse on the BCI board, I am able to voice the perspective of nursing on important BCI goals such as improving prevention and early detection as well as reducing disparities in access to care.”

For more information on the Biden Cancer Collaborative, Biden Cancer Colloquia, or #CancerFierce, visit