10 things to know about the National Cancer Moonshot

Last week President Barack Obama signed a memorandum to officially kick off Vice President Joe Biden's "moonshot" initiative to improve cancer care and research, and an initial budget has been created.

Here are 10 things to know about the initiative some are calling a "quantum leap" and others are calling a “slingshot.”

1. President Obama created a task force for the job, which had its first meeting Monday. The task force will be chaired by Vice President Biden and include the Department of Defense, HHS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, among other executive branch departments and agencies.

2. The White House announced Monday it would allot $1 billion to jumpstart the initiative. The goal is to bring about a decade's worth of change in cancer prevention, detection and therapy in about half the time.

3. The funds will be divided among the National Institutes for Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. A total of $195 million will go to NIH in fiscal year 2016 to kickstart new cancer activities and the FY 2017 budget proposal will include $755 million for the NIH and FDA to launch new cancer-related research, according to the White House announcement. The DoD and VA will also increase investments into cancer research.

4. However, some say this is not nearly enough to spur a "moonshot." A 2014 study from Medford, Mass.-based Tufts University suggests it takes approximately $2.6 billion to develop and win market approval for just one drug, let alone a whole moonshot's worth. An article in The New York Times that cited the Tufts study called the initiative's budget more of a "cancer slingshot."

5. The funds will be invested in research to improve and speed solutions for prevention, detection and treatment of cancer. This includes research into vaccines, genomic and proteomic technologies for early detection, minimally invasive screening assays, immunotherapy, combination therapy, genomic analysis and new approaches to narrow cancer health disparity gaps. 

6. The moonshot will also focus on leveraging big data to find solutions. The initiative will support data sharing among public and private entities. It will also support the development of tools to digest this data and improve our knowledge of genetic abnormalities.

7. The FDA will launch a virtual Oncology Center of Excellence as part of the moonshot. This center of excellence will allow regulatory scientists and reviewers with expertise in drugs, biologics and devices to expedite the development and evaluation of new products for the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer, including combination products and precision medicine.

8. Vice President Biden is also launching a specific fund for high-risk, high-reward research. Called the Exceptional Opportunities in Cancer Research Fund, it aims to break down silos between physicians, advocates, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, and other parties, to find collaborative solutions.  

9. The administration plans to channel more funds into the program over time. The White House announcement states, "Together, these investments represent an initial down-payment on the National Cancer Moonshot. Over the coming months, the administration looks forward to working with Congress to launch the next phase of investments, providing the resources needed to double our rate of progress in this historic fight."

10. Budget criticism aside, many are still skeptical of how effective the moonshot can really be. One such critic, cancer researcher and assistant professor at Oregon Health and Science University Vinay Prasad, MD, writing for The Washington Post recalled several previous and relatively unsuccessful initiatives, including the 1970s' War on Cancer or the National Cancer Institute's plan in 2003 to cure cancer by 2010 for just $600 million annually.

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