publication date: Dec. 16, 2016


The Year of the Moonshot

By Paul Goldberg

The moonshot, The Cancer Letter’s biggest area of coverage of 2016, continues into 2017.

With the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, the cancer moonshot initiative has been authorized at $1.8 billion over seven years. The Cures Act also authorizes $500 million over the next decade for FDA to streamline drug and device approval processes (The Cancer Letter, Dec. 10).

All of this is encouraging, but the details of implementation of this vision is what really matters. For starters, in Washington math, authorization doesn’t equal appropriation. The details of how new funds reach their targets and who gets to control this process matter even more.

We look forward to providing robust coverage of these developments, week after week, as we have over the past 42 years.

In 2016, The Cancer Letter’s reach expanded to 120 institutional subscribers and a growing number of individual subscribers.

This year, more advertisers have discovered that The Cancer Letter ends up on the desks and computer screens of the most important players in oncology, the pharmaceutical industry, funding and regulatory agencies, and advocacy groups.

This was a good year to make illustrations a part of The Cancer Letter. Our lead artist, Katherine Pavlovna Goldberg, had a fantastic time with all things moonshot. Check out the retrospective on the cover of this issue.

A Chicago-based illustrator and costume designer, Katie earned an MFA degree from the North Carolina School of the Arts earlier this year. Now, a disclosure: Katie is my daughter. She grew up with this stuff.

Throughout the year, Matthew Bin Han Ong has led coverage of the moonshot efforts as they affected NCI, NIH, FDA, Congress, Big Data and beyond. Matt, or Scoop, as he is known around the office, has banged out 50 of the 64 moonshot stories we have published. Arguably, this is more moonshot coverage than you will find anyplace else on this planet.

And here they are.

This year, Scoop won four journalism awards: the first place Dateline Award from the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for his series titled “Power Morcellation: A Hazardous Practice.” His haul also includes the Best in Business Award for Outstanding Business Journalism, Society of American Business Editors and Writers (second place); the Health Care Journalism Award of the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation (finalist), and the Azbee Award of Excellence, American Society of Business Publication Editors (second place).

Another notable piece of journalism was written by an intern, Laura Brawley, who spent the summer of 2016 in our offices, after finishing her first year at the University of Chicago. Laura produced an overview of development of drugs that target the PD-1 protein and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2 (The Cancer Letter, Oct. 7). She found an unprecedented development effort, with 803 registered clinical trials testing 20 of these checkpoint inhibitors. The trials, in various stages of completion, had slots for 166,736 patients. Laura’s project—and FDA’s detailed response (The Cancer Letter, Nov. 11)—are required reading for anyone involved in development of cancer drugs.

We published Slamming the Door, a 14-part series that re-examined the concurrent controversies at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and MD Anderson Cancer Center. This examination was possible in part because of insight provided by Alfred Gilman, the Nobel laureate who served as the first scientific director of the state institution that distributes $300 million a year. Gilman died on Dec. 23, 2015.

We have been upgrading The Cancer Letter’s website and information systems. This has been a slow process, but it’s getting done. And—you heard it here first—we have redesigned the PDF version of The Cancer Letter.

You will see it next month.

Until now, anyone who had a question was likely to get a callback from yours truly. I’ve always enjoyed this part of my job. We have grown sufficiently that I have to give it up, but I remain as reachable as I have always been.

The Cancer Letter now has a general manager, Angela Spring, who comes to us from Politics & Prose, Washington’s premier independent book store, where, as the sales floor manager, she oversaw a staff of 18 unruly intellectuals.

Angela, who is hyper-organized, has taken over the upkeep of The Cancer Letter’s subscription database, customer service, advertising and production.

As 2016 ends, we look forward to covering the changes mandated by the new order in Washington—and helping our readers adjust, reorient and regroup.

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