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Cancer Moonshot

Cancer Moonshot Initiative - Overview & Ohio's Role

Tue, Jan 16, 2018  -  Comments (0)  -   Posted by Deanna Moore

I recently had the opportunity to connect with Sarah Wallace from the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center to talk about the Cancer Moonshot Initiative. We found the conversation so productive and interesting that we decided to work on a blog post together. Thanks to Sarah for her insights below and spreading awareness about a topic that holds so much meaning for so many of us. -Deanna Moore


Sitting across from the doctor as they tell you that you have just been diagnosed with cancer is extremely scary and overwhelming -- at the very least. Unfortunately, more than 15 million Americans living today have had that experience as a cancer patient. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2017, there were 1.7 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 600,920 cancer related deaths. Not only does the diagnosis push patients emotionally and physically, but the financial impact is enormous.

In 2014 cancer patients paid roughly $4 billion out-of-pocket for treatment. Cancer treatment is a large contributor to the overall U.S. health care spending - approximately $87.8 billion was spent in 2014 on cancer-related health care. These costs were paid by cancer patients, families, employers, insurance companies, and programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Ohioans are no exception to the devastation cancer brings. The American Cancer Society estimates that the state of Ohio had 68,180 new cancer cases and 25,430 cancer related deaths in 2017. However, in an effort to dramatically accelerate developments in cancer research, in 2016 President Barack Obama introduced the Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

What is the Cancer Moonshot Initiative?

In January of 2016 then President Obama addressed the nation in his final State of Union speech. During this address, Obama publicly launched the Cancer Moonshot Initiative and appointed former Vice President Joe Biden to lead the charge. The initiative is a collaborative, one-billion-dollar effort to fast-track developments of all forms of cancer. The initiative aims to complete decades worth of progress in five years, forging an increase in availability to therapies for more patients, while also improving cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment.

Curing cancer is a lofty goal, but getting to the moon in the 1960s also seemed next to impossible. However, just eight years after John F. Kennedy’s historic 1961 speech inspiring Americans to pull together and get to the moon, Neil Armstrong made one small step and “one giant leap for mankind.” In the years following Kennedy's speech the government invested heavily in technology, while also focusing on collaboration across private industries, government and the military in order to meet Kennedy’s challenge.

Who Is Involved?

There is no better time than now to make the same leap in cancer research. The United States has accumulated decades of scientific cancer data since 1971 when Nixon declared a “War on Cancer.” Despite all the data, the lifetime risk of battling cancer for both men and women is disheartening.

Biden, motivated by the loss of his son Beau to brain cancer, believes that the initiative will be successful by using the same strategies that brought Kennedy to the moon -- leveraging existing knowledge, talents and technology.

The National Cancer Moonshot is assembling some of the brightest minds across different government agencies and departments into a Task Force. The Task Force was designed to unify all relevant federal agencies in an effort to accelerate the progress of cancer research. To ensure that the actions of the initiative are founded in the best science, the Task Force consults with external experts from relevant scientific sectors, such as the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB). The group includes representatives from the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Energy, and Veterans Affairs. Additionally the executives of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), and National Cancer Institute (NCI) are collaborating on their shared goal.

In addition to the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, a Blue Ribbon Panel of experts was established to provide expert advice on the vision, goals, implementation and funding. The panel is comprised of leaders from a broad range of areas, including biology, immunology, genomics, diagnostics, bioinformatics, and cancer prevention and treatment. Some members also have expertise and extensive background in clinical trials, advocacy, and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

The Moonshot is also leveraging partnerships and even crowdsourcing to reach their goals. For example, the National Cancer Institute is taking suggestions and ideas from the research community and the public at large. The Blue Ribbon Panel is responsible for selecting the best ideas and providing further funding and support to enable further research. The hope is that including everyone in the conversation will foster new ideas, approaches, and improvements on treatments -- like immunotherapies.

Additionally, partnerships with organizations and businesses outside of the medical sphere are improving and supporting current research. Examples include:

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): NASA has been working towards improving radiation, specifically studying the effects of particle beam radiotherapy. Astronauts face radiation in space, so NASA has existing information, studies, and science regarding radiation. The Moonshot team is hopeful that this partnership will deliver a more targeted dose of radiation to tumor cells and improve cancer treatments.

Amazon & Microsoft: The National Cancer Institute, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft are working together to build an online repository that will maintain cancer genomic data in the cloud. Storing the information in the cloud will make it easier for cancer researchers and medical professionals to access existing data from anywhere further enabling collaboration and sharing of existing knowledge.

Lyft & Uber: Ride-sharing apps, such as Uber and Lyft, have committed to support affordable, reliable medical transportation for cancer patients. Often times, important appointments are missed as a result of transportation issues. Lyft plans to expand its Boston-based "Treatment Transport" partnership to all the cities that they serve by 2020. Uber has set a goal to provide millions of patients with rides annually in over 500 cities by 2018.

Pharmaceutical Companies: In October of 2017, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and 11 pharmaceutical companies announced the launch of a five-year cancer immunotherapy research collaboration as part of the Cancer Moonshot. Partners will be contributing $215 million in total to the Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT). According to NIH director Francis Collins, PACT's fundamental question is "why doesn't immunotherapy work of all patients in all types of cancer, and what can we do about that?" While the goal of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative is to prevent, treat, and cure all cancers, a focus on immunotherapy is particularly good for patients with rare cancers, such as mesothelioma, in that it helps patients have more hope than ever before. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos and typically has a very poor prognosis. However, the ability to detect these cancers earlier, while also improving treatment options such as immunotherapy, could give cancer patients a much longer life expectancy.

The examples above are just few of the partnerships and collaborations which aim to change the face of cancer.

The Cancer Moonshot Program and Ohio

Former Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Cleveland June 30, 2016 in his very first stop following the national Cancer Moonshot Summit in Washington, DC. Biden’s visit to Cleveland highlighted an effort by the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center to reduce smoking rates and increase HPV vaccination rates.

The Case Comprehensive Cancer Center (Case CCC), based at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), is a partnership organization supporting cancer-related research efforts at CWRU, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, and Cleveland Clinic. The Case CCC is located in Cleveland, Ohio, and serves as a cancer research center and provides clinical care for over 4 million people in Northern Ohio.

The Case CCC has partnered with the Cancer Moonshot Initiative and George Washington University to achieve their goal to reduce smoking rates and increase HPV vaccination rates in the state. Their aim is to close the gap in smoking rates between Cleveland and its suburbs. According to Dr. Stanton L. Gerson, director of Case CCC, 35 percent of people in the city smoke -- a rate three times higher than the surrounding region. The Case CCC has hopes to cut the rate in half.

The Case CCC is also working towards increasing the rate of HPV vaccination. The vaccination can prevent the human papillomaviruses (HPV) which can cause cervical cancer, head and neck cancers, as well as other forms of disease. According to the CDC, rates of HPV-associated cancers have continue to increase. Approximately 39,000 new HPV-associated cancers are now diagnosed each year in the United States. Vaccination rates remain low in the U.S., with just 41.9 percent of girls and 28.1 percent of boys completing the recommended vaccine series. In Ohio, those rates are even lower with 35 percent of girls and 23 percent of boys completing vaccination.

The Case CCC has continued to meet with the Moonshot team and the National Cancer Institute to help shape decision-making on cancer research. In addition, the Case CCC was appointed to the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel, participated in the National Moonshot Summit, and hosted a summit in Cleveland.

Moving Forward

It is rare to meet a person who has not been impacted by cancer, who hasn’t had a friend, coworker, or family member endure the pain of not only the disease, but also the treatment. Biden has stressed that breakthrough can become real “with an absolute national commitment” to cure all forms of cancer.

The Cancer Moonshot Initiative is making strides in the eradication of cancer possible by breaking down the systematic and logistical barriers which once existed in the medical community. No one individual or company is curing cancer -- collaboration among private and federal organizations is key to completing a decade’s worth of progress in just five years.

Ohio's role in the Cancer Moonshot Initiative is just one small piece of the puzzle but without each small group doing its job, the goal will not come to fruition. Through the hard work of Americans everywhere, cancer can be cured.

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