The time has come: another chance to end cancer as we know it

I’ve been a big Cancer Moonshot fan ever since President Biden first championed the initiative when he was President Obama’s Vice President. I’ve shared my personal experience before by talking to him about it when I bumped into him on the Acela train, and he was kind enough to have a conversation with me about the future of cancer care and research. cancer.

Last month, President Biden announced the relaunch of the Cancer Moonshot. The reinvigorated effort shares the goals of the original initiative in that it offers significant government funding in an effort to accelerate progress in our fight against cancer. While the Cancer Moonshot originally focused on accelerating discovery, promoting greater collaboration and improving data sharing, this relaunch builds on the progress made since the launch of the Cancer Moonshot in 2016 and quantifies a goal: to halve cancer deaths over the next 25 years.

The impact of the pandemic on cancer care

In 2022, the world is very different from what it was just six years ago when the initiative was launched. Two years into a global pandemic, our “normal” ways of life have been turned upside down. The ground shifted beneath our feet, often suddenly and without warning, as we experienced each new wave of the virus as it mutated and roamed the world. With each wave, hospitals and healthcare staff have been redirected from their usual work, moving to an “all on deck” environment to meet urgent Covid needs. Non-emergency care has been put on hold to free up staff for the incredible and pressing needs of the moment. These decisions were difficult and necessary as we collectively navigated this unprecedented health crisis.

However, the postponement of non-critical care has not been without impact. The University of Cincinnati Cancer Center noted that in March 2020 alone, more than 800 lung cancer screening appointments were postponed due to Covid. When cancer screening resumed as normal, the percentage of people with cancer-suspect lung nodules had risen from 8% before the pandemic to 29%.

Other impacts caused by the diversion of resources included the delay of clinical trials. In some cases, trial sites were essentially closed for registration due to lack of staff. Although principal investigators remained available, sites were often unable to recruit clinical trial coordinators, planners and receptionists. Sometimes these support staff have been drawn into other areas; sometimes they themselves were ill or isolated. Trial delays impact not only how quickly patients can benefit from a potential new treatment, but also the viability of the clinical trial as a whole.

Many healthcare companies have also felt the effect of the pandemic due to supply chain issues. Although our company did not directly experience supply issues, like others, we were impacted by logistics. Our clinical trials required the transport of refrigerated drug products from our manufacturing site in Germany to the United States, when there was a global need to quickly move large quantities of refrigerated Covid vaccines through these same channels. We experienced drug delivery pressures that we hadn’t faced before and found ourselves scrambling to adapt to the situation.

The silver lining of the pandemic

These are just a few of the pandemic-related adjustments that have been made in healthcare alone. Although some of the impacts were short-term, the unexpected nature of the situation caused us all to take a fresh look at the way things are done. The silver lining of the Covid experience is the degree of scientific understanding gained by the general population during the pandemic.

Two years ago, one would be hard-pressed to overhear a conversation involving terms such as antigen, spike protein or PCR test, now regular topics of conversation. For example, PCR tests, which require cutting-edge, state-of-the-art technology that sequences the genetic code, are now routinely offered at mobile testing units in parks, pharmacies and community clinics, and the public knows them as a superior testing technology.

Another silver lining is the greater respect the average American has for the interplay between science and health care and the importance of cutting-edge medical research. A majority of Americans have benefited from the extraordinary emergence of mRNA vaccines in a timeframe that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago. Deployed at scale with reportable results, their promise has been proven. mRNA vaccines and their success in mitigating the human toll of the pandemic have opened up a whole new arena for drug and vaccine development. And this will lead to focus on the development of cancer vaccines or mRNA agents targeted to specific cancerous tumors.

Cancer detection will also see more such breakthroughs as companies develop sophisticated analytical methods to identify circulating cancerous DNA from a simple blood sample. Cancer care will become more personalized and scientific data will inform health care decisions.

In this environment, I think the timing of the Cancer Moonshot reactivation couldn’t be better.

The Value of Government Funded Initiatives

Government-funded initiatives such as the Cancer Moonshot, which initially injected $1.8 billion in funding over seven years, not only support the primary science that often serves as the foundation for medical advancements, but also ensure that patients with rare cancers are not neglected.

Because of the way our healthcare system works, the development of new treatments always requires some kind of risk-reward calculation. Government funding helps level the playing field for patients with rare cancers by sharing a portion of the investment.

For example, the National Cancer Institute, which receives Cancer Moonshot funding, is able to sponsor trials for smaller companies like ours in hopes of making the treatment accessible to patients who don’t have it. With NCI’s resources, testing can be done much faster. This support can pave the way for the commercialization of an anticancer drug for certain patients suffering from rare diseases, for example. In my company’s experience, trials that would have taken us over five years will now be completed in less than half the time, thanks to NCI and the Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

Additionally, as part of the data-sharing component of the Cancer Moonshot, knowledge gained from administering an NCI trial is made public. This knowledge can add to the body of scientific knowledge about a rare disease and spur new advances in cancer that benefit all Americans. Taken together, it is fair to say that the Cancer Moonshot has improved the prognosis for many cancer patients.

A cancer cabinet powerhouse

Part of the Cancer Moonshot revival effort calls for a cancer cabinet that would bring together departments and agencies from across government. I fully support this Cabinet because I believe it is essential that legislators have access to the most informed and eminent thinkers in oncology today.

Ideally, this cabinet would include leading figures from academia, drug development, and big pharma representing segments of healthcare where primary research, drug development, and commercialization intersect. As a cancer cabinet, these health leaders would create guidelines for the rollout of reinvigorated Cancer Moonshot funding along with metrics and deliverables to ensure transparency and a way to demonstrate the impact of experimental metrics funding, therapeutic and preventive to fight against cancer.

As the final funds of the original Cancer Moonshot are affected this year, it’s hard to argue against this critical relaunch. Renewed financial resources and leadership will be key catalysts for achieving the kind of reductions in the cancer death rate that we seek, and the kind of reductions that Americans deserve in light of all that we have achieved in recent years. medically, scientifically and technologically. Thanks to Covid, there is a popular understanding of what science can deliver and how quickly results can be achieved.

Non-partisan way to cure cancer

Continuing to fund the Cancer Moonshot is not a partisan issue. However, it requires legislative action to materialize. I urge you, whether or not you align yourself politically with the president, to reach out to your legislator and encourage their support and early passage of this initiative.

Cancer has touched the lives of nearly every American, whether through an individual diagnosis or that of a close friend or family member. It is a major scourge that has caused incredible pain and suffering. The need for progress against cancer is felt by almost everyone at a time when there is a keen awareness of the value of scientific advances.

Let’s build on what Richard Nixon started in 1971 with his war on cancer, which gave birth to the National Cancer Institute, highly respected for its cutting-edge research in rare and orphan diseases. Let’s build on a quarter century of bipartisan support and advances in public health that have reduced the age-adjusted cancer death rate by 25%. Let’s lay the groundwork by continuing to support the Cancer Moonshot so that we can halve cancer death rates over the next 25 years and ultimately end cancer as we know it.

Photo: Mainsail, Getty Images

About Margie Peters

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