publication date: Aug. 9, 2019

To the Moon

This story is part of our 2019 Summer Reading Series. You can read the whole series here.


For the past three years, The Cancer Letter has been covering the U.S. government’s Cancer Moonshot initiative.

We found it captivating for two reasons:  

  1. The moonshot focused squarely on the challenges of bringing about interoperability of data systems in patient care and elimination of silos in cancer research, and

  2. Unlike the doubling of the NIH budget, the moonshot represents an effort to direct money to cancer, as opposed to the entire biomedical research.


The 2016 White House effort has been hailed as a historic milestone in modern oncology and compared to Richard Nixon’s National Cancer Act.

President Barack Obama began his final year in office with two goals for cancer research: to achieve 10 years of progress within five years, and to “cure cancer as we know it.”

The reins were handed to Vice President Joe Biden in honor of his son, Beau Biden, who died from brain cancer in May 2015. The vice president pushed for systemic change, but the devil was in the details.

Focusing on breaking down what he called “siloes” in oncology, Biden wanted to rethink all the aspects of cancer research and cancer care: making electronic health records interoperable, increasing research funding, boosting participation in clinical trials, as well as streamlining data and regulatory processes.

Biden proved to be an effective power broker. Cancer groups rallied to his cause, seeking endorsements, committing to progress, and forming collaborations.

Systemic change cannot be covered piecemeal. Politics, policy, and science are inseparable in the moonshot: this is why The Cancer Letter decided to create a comprehensive record of this effort, laying out each story with granular detail.

At 66 stories in 2016—51 written by reporter Matthew Ong—The Cancer Letter’s coverage of the moonshot served as a rallying point for key players in oncology, highlighting red-button issues, and influencing national discourse on the moonshot.

In December 2016, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, endorsed the “Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot” and authorized $1.8 billion for cancer research—setting the tone for the research agenda at NCI for the next seven years, as well as the intellectual framework for informatics and data sharing in oncology.

The full series is posted here:


Notable stories:

Obama announces Moonshot to cure cancer

President Barack Obama announced a moonshot aimed at curing cancer, a project to be led by Vice President Joe Biden.

The United States can do “so much more,” Obama said in his seventh and final State of the Union address Jan. 12. “Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer. Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources they’ve had over a decade.

“Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done. And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of mission control. For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save—let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”

Read more

NCI’s new genomic platform seeks to enable data sharing for Biden’s moonshot

NCI is preparing to open the Genomic Data Commons, a $20 million big data endeavor aimed at making raw genomic data publicly available.

The GDC, NCI’s largest bioinformatics effort since the ill-fated caBIG, will go live June 1. The database will be interoperable and publicly available to qualified researchers. Anyone will be able to submit data for consideration.

While work on the GDC began over two years ago, the initiative is being launched at a time when leading oncology groups are positioning themselves to play a central role in the White House’s moonshot initiative.

Read more

Virtual is not enough: FDA’s critics call for full integration of oncology center under Biden’s moonshot

The White House moonshot to accelerate progress in cancer research directs FDA to consolidate its oncology portfolio.

However, oncology insiders say the manner in which the presidential initiative will be implemented could make the difference between political balderdash and genuine improvement in FDA regulation of cancer therapies.

The entire controversy boils down to the interpretation of one word: Virtual.

Read more

Conversation with The Cancer Letter

Pazdur named acting director of FDA’s new cancer center

Richard Pazdur, currently the director of the FDA Office of Hematology and Oncology Products, will serve as acting director of the newly formed FDA Oncology Center of Excellence.

The exact structure, budget and staffing for the program will be determined in an ongoing process, Pazdur said to The Cancer Letter.

“Because I will be working to develop the structure of the OCE with input across all centers, it would be premature to speculate about what the ultimate structure of the OCE will be,” Pazdur said. “The framework of the OCE will evolve over time, so as not to disrupt the ongoing work in each center.”

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NCI’s moonshot advisory panel identifies 10 opportunities in cancer research

The Blue Ribbon Panel—a group of experts selected to identify scientific opportunities for the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative—has submitted 10 recommendations to the National Cancer Advisory Board.

The panel proposes creating tumor atlases and national networks for patient engagement, immunotherapy clinical trials, and data sharing. Recommendations also include supporting research on drug resistance, fusion oncoproteins, symptom management, and development of cancer technologies.

“The Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations outline a set of opportunities that, if implemented, will transform our understanding of cancer and result in new opportunities to more effectively prevent and treat the disease,” the authors write.

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Obama signs cures act, funding Biden’s moonshot and boosting NIH, NCI, FDA budgets over 10 years

President Barack Obama Dec. 13 signed the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill that changes regulatory standards at FDA, slates additional research funds for NIH, and authorizes $1.8 million over seven years for Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

Read more


This story is part of our 2019 Summer Reading Series. You can read the whole series here.

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