MAR 25, 2022 3:00 AM PDT

What is the Cancer Moonshot?

WRITTEN BY: Katie Kokolus

On January 12, 2016, in his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced a “moonshot” to find a cure for cancer.  Obama tapped then-Vice President Joe Biden to lead this initiative.  The overarching goals of what has become known as the “Cancer Moonshot” were threefold:

  • Accelerate scientific discovery
  • Foster greater collaboration
  • Improve methods of data sharing

Biden released a statement the same night declaring that “The science is ready.” He noted several areas of research that had recently seen significant advances, including cancer immunotherapy and genomics. The statement also discussed limitations that slow progress, including the dissemination of science and data leading to the inclusion of only 5% of cancer patients enrolling in clinical trials.  

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) over $1 billion into the Moonshot to date, and these dollars have supported close to 300 research projects. This funding has promoted the formation of several research groups working to enhance and develop new immunotherapy approaches for adult and childhood cancers. One such group, the Immuno-Oncology Translational Network (IOTN), has made progress in immunotherapeutic approaches in ovarian and head and neck cancer. The Pediatric Immunotherapy Discovery and Development Network (PI-DDN) focuses its effort on developing effective immunotherapies for children with cancer. Recent work from this group highlighted immunotherapy drugs (blinatumomab and inotuzumab) for children with recurrent B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  

While the goals of Moonshot appear almost universally agreeable, it did draw criticism, particularly regarding the limited financial investment relative to the Federal budget.  

On February 2, 2022, now President Joe Biden reignited the program as Moonshot 2.0 to “end cancer as we know it today.” An ambitious goal of the program includes reducing cancer-related mortality by 50% in the next 25 years. Further, Biden wants to enhance cancer patients' experiences by improving the quality of life in cancer survivors. While the details of Moonshot 2.0, including the budget, are still materializing, Biden has called for a “Cancer Cabinet” which will bring together members of various Federal agencies for an all-government approach.  

While it is still too soon to determine how these programs will impact the broad cancer research area, the focus on finding cures for cancer offers hope to patients and their families. 


Sources: Cancer Cell, Oncotarget, Cancer Res, Ped Blood Cancer, Cancer Letters

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I received a PhD in Tumor Immunology from SUNY Buffalo and BS and MS degrees from Duquesne University. I also completed a postdoc fellowship at the Penn State College of Medicine. I am interested in developing novel strategies to improve the efficacy of immunotherapies used to extend cancer survivorship.
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