I delivered a report to President Obama laying out how far we’ve come since he put me in charge of the Cancer Moonshot back in January—and a real vision of where we need to go in the immediate future to: do in five years what would otherwise take ten; inject a sense of urgency into the fight against cancer; and change the culture and reimagine our system to win.
When President Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971, he had no army, no resources, and no clear strategy to win. But after 45 years of progress, funding research, training scientists and physicians, and treating millions of patients—we now have the army. We now have powerful new tools. And with this Moonshot, we now have a clear strategy for the road ahead. It matters because there’s a consensus that we’re at an inflection point—with science, medicine, and technology advancing faster than ever and offering real promise. But we can’t play by the rules of 1971—in 2016.
Just five years ago, immunotherapy—using the immune system to kill cancer cells while protecting healthy ones—wasn’t taken seriously. Now it is and it’s offering real hope. Decades of research has accumulated huge amounts of data—but it’s not shared, it’s hard to understand, and often not accessible to researchers and the public. But now we’re in the position to break down silos to change that.
And the Moonshot vision report reflects what Jill and I have learned after meeting with thousands of cancer patients and their families, advocates, physicians, researchers, philanthropists, technology leaders, and heads of states about what’s happening now and what we need to do. It’s everything from enhancing prevention efforts, expanding access to care, and forging an international commitment to this fight.
This week I also released a report from the Cancer Moonshot Task Force— the team I’m leading to reimagine the federal government’s fight against this dreaded disease. It touches almost every corner of government. For example, you’d expect the National Institutes of Health to be involved in researching radiation therapy for cancer patients. But would you expect NASA to be involved? Nobody in the world knows more about radiation and its effects on the human body than NASA, whose scientists are constantly finding ways to protect our astronauts from harmful radiation in space. Now, thanks to the Moonshot, the National Institute of Cancer will use that knowledge to help cancer patients.
Here’s another great example. Right now, only 4% of adult cancer patients are enrolled in clinical trials. Why? Most patients—and even doctors—don’t know where to go. And it’s a problem for drug companies because they don’t have enough patients to generate the research, find new breakthroughs, and get them to patients. But now thanks to the work of the Presidential Innovation Fellows—some of the top technology minds who left Silicon Valley to work in the White House—anyone can go to Trials.Cancer.Gov, type in real words like “breast cancer,” a zip code, or an age, and more easily find a list of clinical trials nearby.
And another thing that’s happening that didn’t before is the private sector is also reimagining what it can and should do. In just the last few months, more than 70 new public and private sector commitments have been made from companies like Microsoft and Amazon. IBM, for example, came to us and offered Watson, its supercomputer, to partner with the Department of Defense, and the VA. Now, a veteran at Walter Reed can get her cancer genome or tumor sequenced and then Watson will search all known specific therapies that would target that cancer—and deliver it right to the patient and doctor.
Folks, most of you assume we’ve already been doing this. We weren’t before, but now we are. And the Moonshot is about all of us doing our part. Visit Cancer.Serve.Gov to learn how you can volunteer to help your loved ones, friends, and neighbors.
In our fight against cancer—we must be unwilling to postpone—for the loved ones we’ve lost and the ones we can save.