Blog December 8, 2016

Moonshot: On its Way

On September 17, Vice President Joe Biden released his final report on the Cancer Moonshot before leaving office. He announced progress on over 20 programs now underway during the effort’s first year or soon to be launched, and another two dozen for the second year of the effort and beyond.


Back in September we wrote that one of the main themes in the recommendations of the National Cancer Institute’s Blue Ribbon panel relating to the Moonshot Initiative was focused on collaboration and open sharing of data. That is certain an underlying message of the Biden report, which details a number of collaborative efforts. Among these efforts is a partnership between the NCI, Amazon web services and MicroSoft to build a sustainable model for maintaining high quality cancer genomic and associated data in the cloud, for researcher access.


Another important initiative underway is the creation of a blood profiling access, a collaborative effort involving a number of pharmaceutical companies, diagnostic firms, universities and research institutions, who are making available raw datasets on circulating tumor cells, circulating cell-free tumor DNA, and exosome assays, along with related clinical data, technology, and sample preparation and handling protocols from more than a dozen clinical studies.


We also want to note an effort by the Department of Defense, which echoes our own views that serious, retrospective studies of patient data should be made in an effort to identify the complex biological signposts of cancer that may result in the identification of biomarkers useful to the development and use of cancer immunotherapeutics. The DOD is undertaking a longitudinal study in service members, using data in the department’s Cancer Registry to identify new linkages between pre-diagnostic biological markers and various types of cancers. Their hope is that the identification of such pre-diagnostic biomarkers will lead to new approaches to precision oncology including the better screening and diagnosis of those at risk of developing cancer. The DOD’s work will also be combined with efforts at the Environmental Protection Agency to understand environment contributors to the development of cancer.


Now Congress needs to come up with new funding to move the Moonshot vision forward. There has been bipartisan support for this effort, and the 21st Century Cures Act — which calls for funding the Moonshot — has been sent to President Obama’s desk for signing. However such funding is still not guaranteed, and it remains to see what the priorities of the new Congress will be under President Trump.