During his final State of the Union address in January 2016, former President Barack Obama appointed Joe Biden the lead on a new initiative: the National Cancer Moonshot. The goal was to find treatments, cures, and more understanding about cancer—a decade’s worth of progress in just five years.

After four years and nearly $1 billion in funding, Cancer Moonshot has produced more than 70 consortiums or programs and more than 240 research projects. The initiative started with three goals:

  • Accelerate scientific discovery in cancer.
  • Foster greater collaboration.
  • Improve data sharing. 

“Today, we see remarkable progress toward these goals and important changes in the culture of cancer research,” National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Norman Sharpless, MD, and Deputy Director Dinah Singer, PhD, wrote. “By focusing on areas of cancer research that are most likely to undergo rapid translation to the patient as a result of new investment, Moonshot has brought together a large community of investigators and clinicians who are dedicated to expediting research to benefit people with cancer and their loved ones.” 


Research supported by NCI’s Immuno-Oncology Translation Network led to breakthroughs into the responses of ovarian cancers to immunotherapy and the use of immunotherapy in certain types of head and neck cancers.  

NCI’s Pediatric Immunotherapy Discovery and Development Network is researching major barriers to immune-based treatments for pediatric and young adult patients with cancer. One of the network’s study findings suggested that some pediatric patients with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia may benefit from certain immunotherapy drugs.

Pediatric Cancer

NCI created the Fusion Oncoproteins in Childhood Cancers (FusOnC2) Consortium to build an evidence base for pediatric cancers at high risk for treatment failure or for which no effective targeted therapies currently exist. 

“The consortium’s researchers have developed a number of novel cancer models to study these rare cancers and have made significant advances in understanding how the fusion affects the protein’s function and localization in the cell,” Sharpless and Singer wrote. “The FusOnC2 Consortium is highly collaborative, both within the network and with other Moonshot programs.”

Tumor Atlases

NCI’s Human Tumor Atlas Network is creating detailed spatial and temporal “maps” of a variety of cancers that will be used to investigate how cancer might develop, spread, or respond to treatment.

Across the United States, six centers are collaborating to compare multiplexed imaging modalities and will:

  • Build data sharing infrastructure.
  • Develop image analysis pipelines.
  • Provide guidance to the research community about strengths and weaknesses of various imaging approaches. 

Early Detection and Cancer Prevention

More than 50 NCI-designated cancer centers have established smoking cessation programs through the Cancer Center Cessation Initiative. And the Moonshot expanded the use of effective early detection strategies to build the evidence base on multilevel interventions to increase rates of colorectal cancer screening, follow up, and referral to care.

The Climb Continues

Looking ahead, Moonshot is building collaborations, sharing data, and stimulating investigator-initiated research.

“As these examples illustrate, the Cancer Moonshot’s strategies and investments are indeed moving cancer research forward. Successful programs are in place to deliver important advancements by 2023, the final year of dedicated Moonshot funding,” Sharpless and Singer wrote. “Our vision of the Moonshot’s future draws heavily on the lessons we have learned to date, including the rapid research advancements that can come from bringing the community together behind a common goal.”