Did the Cancer Moonshot Initiative Make 10 Years of Cancer Research Progress in 5 Years?

March 18, 2021 by Alec Stone MA, MPA, Former ONS Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

When the Obama administration announced the National Cancer Moonshot in January 2016, its goal was to invest $1 billion in cancer research to make a decade’s worth of discoveries in just five years. The funding was distributed (https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/02/01/fact-sheet-investing-national-cancer-moonshot) across the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Defense, and Department of Veterans Affairs to propel the Moonshot forward.

A Strategic Approach

Advancing science so quickly requires a well-planned strategy. The National Cancer Moonshot was directed (https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/02/01/fact-sheet-investing-national-cancer-moonshot) to drill down in specific research areas to move quickly in finding opportunities for treatments and cures, including:

Prevention and cancer vaccines: Develop, evaluate, and optimize safe vaccines targeting unique features of individual cancers.

Early cancer detection: Develop and evaluate minimally invasive screening assays to enable more sensitive diagnostic tests.

Cancer immunotherapy and combination therapy: Reduce health disparity gaps by increasing use of recommended cancer prevention, screening, and treatment.

Genomic analysis of tumor and surrounding cells: Gain a greater understanding of the genetic changes that occur in cancer cells and patient response to therapy.

Enhanced data sharing: Support the development of new tools to share knowledge about genomic abnormalities, response to treatment, and long-term outcomes.

Oncology Center of Excellence: Create a virtual FDA Oncology Center of Excellence to leverage the combined skills of regulatory scientists and reviewers with expertise in drugs, biologics, and devices for greater use of precision medicine.

Pediatric cancer: Intensify efforts to collect and analyze tumor specimens from the rarest childhood cancers.

Vice President’s Exceptional Opportunities in Cancer Research Fund: Support high-risk, high-return research through collaborative work and new ideas. 

In an unprecedented, coordinated effort, the National Cancer Moonshot brought together the greatest scientists, researchers, healthcare providers, patient advocates, and public and private sector leaders to channel all of the ideas and proposals submitted to the Cancer Moonshot Task Force’s Blue Ribbon Panel (https://www.cancer.gov/research/key-initiatives/moonshot-cancer-initiative/blue-ribbon-panel#ui-id-2) into 10 recommendations:

Did We Do It?

Since the launch of a National Cancer Moonshot, extraordinary advancements have borne remarkable fruit.

“Successful programs are in place to deliver important advancements by 2023, the final year of dedicated Moonshot funding,” National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Ned Sharpless, MD, and Deputy Director for Scientific Strategy and Development Dinah Singer, PhD, wrote in a 2021 blog post (https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2021/cancer-moonshot-midpoint-progress-update). “To maintain the pace of progress established since the Moonshot’s inception, we need to ensure a smooth transition of these programs into traditional research funding mechanisms without disrupting the important work NCI supports throughout its portfolio at research institutions across the country.”

The successes will continue by maintaining the focus “on building collaborations, sharing data, and stimulating investigator-initiated research to pursue research questions that are most likely to benefit from new investments,” Sharpless and Singer added (https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2021/cancer-moonshot-midpoint-progress-update).

ONS Perspective

Throughout the National Cancer Moonshot, ONS has been a staunch supporter of the initiative’s goals and agenda. ONS leaders and members spoke at the roundtables (https://voice.ons.org/advocacy/how-oncology-nurses-are-working-on-the-cancer-moonshot-initiative) that helped guide the final plan. Three ONS members were appointed (https://voice.ons.org/news-and-views/ons-members-appointed-to-cancer-moonshot-working-groups) to the Blue Ribbon Panel working groups. And ONS member and Past President Deborah K. Mayer, PhD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN, was the only nurse selected (https://voice.ons.org/news-and-views/six-months-later-how-ons-and-oncology-nurses-are-involved-in-the-national-cancer) for the Blue Ribbon Panel itself.

Literally having a seat at the table with then-Vice President Joe Biden and other agency leaders, oncology nurses fought to increase federal investment in the Moonshot and ensure that patient-centered care would drive advancements so that one day, America will achieve its goal to actually cure cancer.

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