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Biden to lead effort to expedite cancer research, find a cure

As part of his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced the launch of a national initiative to cure cancer that will be led by Vice President Joe Biden.

In October, Biden called for a “moonshot” to cure cancer in the wake of losing his son Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer last summer.

“Last month, [Biden] worked with this congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources they’ve had in over a decade,” Obama said during the address. “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,” Obama added.

‘Moonshot’ to cure cancer

Although specific details of the initiative were not provided in the address, Biden will officially launch the effort on Friday when he visits the Abramson Cancer Center at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

“The goal of this initiative — this ‘moonshot’ — is to seize the moment,” Biden said in a statement released following the State of the Union. The goal is “to accelerate our efforts to progress toward a cure and to unleash new discoveries and breakthroughs for other deadly diseases,” he added.

Biden said he will spend the next year — his final as vice president — leading a collaborative effort involving government, industry, researchers, clinicians, patients and philanthropists to target investment, coordinate research across different fields and increase access to information for everyone in the cancer community.

“The goal if this initiative is simple — to double the rate of progress. To make a decade worth of advances in 5 years,” Biden said.

Part of the problem is that many promising advances are “trapped in silos,” due to a lack of private and public resources, Biden said. He added that only 5% of patients with cancer in the U.S. are treated on a clinical trial, and that community oncologists often do not have access to the most ground-breaking technologies and treatments.

He said the federal government will provide the necessary funding, incentives and private sector coordination to support research and enable progress.

He also said he will encourage leading cancer centers to share their knowledge and understanding of the mechanisms of cancer and how to treat it. This can be accomplished by revolutionizing how data is shared — with patients as well as with doctors — and improving communication so the same care can be provided in community settings as in the top cancer centers.

Response from cancer community

ASCO and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) praised Obama and Biden for pledging to intensify the effort against cancer in their final year in office.

Richard Schilsky

Richard L. Schilsky

“With nearly 1.7 million people in the United States diagnosed with cancer each year, and the incidence of cancer expected to rise to 2.3 million cases per year by 2030, it is imperative that we do all we can to bring more effective treatments from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside as quickly as possible,” Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FASCO, chief medical officer for ASCO, said in a press release. “We must recommit to vastly speeding the discovery of new cancer treatments and enabling the possibility of precision medicine for every individual with cancer.”

José Baselga, MD, PhD

José  Baselga

A group of 15 AACR members, including José  Baselga, MD, PhD, society president and physician-in-chief and chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, met with Biden’s senior staff on Jan. 8 to discuss the state of cancer research and Biden’s commitment to taking the lead on this cause.

“We have indeed reached an inflection point where the number of discoveries that are being made at such an accelerated pace are saving lives and bringing enormous hope for cancer patients, even those with advanced disease,” Baselga said in a statement from AACR. “Now is the time for a major new initiative in cancer science that supports and builds upon our basic science foundation while translating these exciting scientific discoveries into improved treatments for cancer patients, such as in the areas of genomics, precision medicine and immune-oncology.”

As part of his kickoff campaign, Biden will follow-up his visit at University of Pennsylvania with a trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he’ll meet with international cancer experts. He then plans to convene a meeting with cabinet secretaries and agency heads to discuss the improvement of federal investment and support of cancer research and treatment.

“Fifty-five years ago, President Kennedy stood before a joint session of congress and said, ‘I believe we should go to the moon,’” Biden said. “It was a call to humankind. And it inspired a generation of Americans — my generation — in pursuit of science and innovation, where they literally pushed the boundaries of what was possible. This is our moonshot.” – by Anthony SanFilippo

As part of his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced the launch of a national initiative to cure cancer that will be led by Vice President Joe Biden.

In October, Biden called for a “moonshot” to cure cancer in the wake of losing his son Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer last summer.

“Last month, [Biden] worked with this congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources they’ve had in over a decade,” Obama said during the address. “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,” Obama added.

‘Moonshot’ to cure cancer

Although specific details of the initiative were not provided in the address, Biden will officially launch the effort on Friday when he visits the Abramson Cancer Center at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

“The goal of this initiative — this ‘moonshot’ — is to seize the moment,” Biden said in a statement released following the State of the Union. The goal is “to accelerate our efforts to progress toward a cure and to unleash new discoveries and breakthroughs for other deadly diseases,” he added.

Biden said he will spend the next year — his final as vice president — leading a collaborative effort involving government, industry, researchers, clinicians, patients and philanthropists to target investment, coordinate research across different fields and increase access to information for everyone in the cancer community.

“The goal if this initiative is simple — to double the rate of progress. To make a decade worth of advances in 5 years,” Biden said.

Part of the problem is that many promising advances are “trapped in silos,” due to a lack of private and public resources, Biden said. He added that only 5% of patients with cancer in the U.S. are treated on a clinical trial, and that community oncologists often do not have access to the most ground-breaking technologies and treatments.

He said the federal government will provide the necessary funding, incentives and private sector coordination to support research and enable progress.

He also said he will encourage leading cancer centers to share their knowledge and understanding of the mechanisms of cancer and how to treat it. This can be accomplished by revolutionizing how data is shared — with patients as well as with doctors — and improving communication so the same care can be provided in community settings as in the top cancer centers.

Response from cancer community

ASCO and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) praised Obama and Biden for pledging to intensify the effort against cancer in their final year in office.

Richard Schilsky

Richard L. Schilsky

“With nearly 1.7 million people in the United States diagnosed with cancer each year, and the incidence of cancer expected to rise to 2.3 million cases per year by 2030, it is imperative that we do all we can to bring more effective treatments from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside as quickly as possible,” Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FASCO, chief medical officer for ASCO, said in a press release. “We must recommit to vastly speeding the discovery of new cancer treatments and enabling the possibility of precision medicine for every individual with cancer.”

José Baselga, MD, PhD

José  Baselga

A group of 15 AACR members, including José  Baselga, MD, PhD, society president and physician-in-chief and chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, met with Biden’s senior staff on Jan. 8 to discuss the state of cancer research and Biden’s commitment to taking the lead on this cause.

“We have indeed reached an inflection point where the number of discoveries that are being made at such an accelerated pace are saving lives and bringing enormous hope for cancer patients, even those with advanced disease,” Baselga said in a statement from AACR. “Now is the time for a major new initiative in cancer science that supports and builds upon our basic science foundation while translating these exciting scientific discoveries into improved treatments for cancer patients, such as in the areas of genomics, precision medicine and immune-oncology.”

As part of his kickoff campaign, Biden will follow-up his visit at University of Pennsylvania with a trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he’ll meet with international cancer experts. He then plans to convene a meeting with cabinet secretaries and agency heads to discuss the improvement of federal investment and support of cancer research and treatment.

“Fifty-five years ago, President Kennedy stood before a joint session of congress and said, ‘I believe we should go to the moon,’” Biden said. “It was a call to humankind. And it inspired a generation of Americans — my generation — in pursuit of science and innovation, where they literally pushed the boundaries of what was possible. This is our moonshot.” – by Anthony SanFilippo

    Perspective
    Brian Bolwell

    Brian Bolwell

    Those of us who work in the cancer field applaud this initiative. We are very enthusiastic at the possibility of devoting more federal resources and trying to accelerate cancer research and improvements in the clinical care of cancer patients.

    We are very happy directionally with the overall tone of the message. It is very important to us exactly how these resources are allocated. We also are very much aware that cancer is far more than just one disease. Even within a given anatomical location, such as colon cancer or lung cancer, there are innumerable genomic variations.

    However, this is a very complicated issue. We’ve made a great deal of progress with the knowledge of genomics and we are just starting to see the benefit of genomic therapies. We have additionally made progress with our knowledge of immunology, and we are starting to see some pretty surprising and encouraging results in the clinical treatment of patients with immunological therapies. Such progress is incremental — it is step-by-step. It requires the coordination of a lot of different parts of biomedical research and the clinical community. An increase in federal funding can positively influence the clinical care of cancer patients over the next decade.

    From a research perspective, at a very basic level, investigator-initiated grant proposals are currently funded at less than 10%. Fifteen years ago, it was closer to 30%. Simply, funding more good scientific ideas is a good thing and will help.

    A small percentage of patients in the U.S. have their tumors undergo sophisticated genomic sequencing. Such genomic sequencing is necessary to consider entry into clinical trials that are pioneering precision medicine or targeted therapies that look at such genomic abnormalities. Getting the insurance industry to cover genomic testing of tumors is an area of low-hanging fruit that can easily be done.

    Supporting comprehensive cancer centers to a greater degree is another area that makes sense. Comprehensive cancer centers are one of the main ways we try to address the disparities of care in the U.S. These centers look at population-based research and ways to favorably impact the underserved.

    From a clinical perspective, a very obvious opportunity is to use resources to have every American undergo appropriate cancer screening. The easiest way to increase cure rates is to detect cancer earlier.

    There are other things that are important for those of us who take care of cancer patients. Another issue of paramount important is the cost of prescription drugs.

    Cancer therapies, especially in the newer targeted therapies, today can cost over $100,000 per course for a patient. A decade ago it was less than $10,000 for new therapies. That suggests that 10 years from now it will be over $1 million per patient, which is not an economically sustainable model.

    Unfortunately, far too many patients are faced with very unfortunate or even impossible decisions on how much of their savings they should dip into to undergo state-of-the-art cancer therapies. The federal government should lead an effort to control the escalating cost of new cancer therapies.

    Scientific progress generally occurs one step at a time. It is probably a bit optimistic to think we’re going to cure all cancers within a specific time frame. This is going to will take time, but conceptually and directionally the idea of devoting more resources to discovery and to improved access to clinical research to try to help the thousands of people and their families who have cancer is certainly very exciting.

    • Brian Bolwell, MD
    • Cleveland Clinic

    Disclosures: Bolwell reports no relevant financial disclosures.