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With everyone’s focus on the upcoming election, some important news has been overlooked. Recently, Vice President Joe Biden held a press conference to give a progress report on the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, an effort launched by President Obama during his 2016 State of the Union address with the goal of eliminating cancer.
Vice President Biden released the first report on the initiative since establishing the Cancer Moonshot Taskforce on Monday, October 17. The report is a summary of work done so far. It lays out the steps to be taken in order to accomplish a series of milestone goals.
The report highlights a number of accomplishments the taskforce has been able to achieve to this point. These reports include analysis across all areas of cancer research. Many of these areas of analysis include things that will help rare cancers like mesothelioma in particular, since they often do not receive the same level of funding and attention as other cancers. Some of the most notable projects focus on technology, prevention, treatment, and the development of partnerships to further along these projects.
The report outlines a number of different areas for technological progress. One section explains how data on treatments has been made more widely available through the Cancer Treatment/Cancer Therapy API. Through this application interface, developers will be able to design apps aimed at improving treatment of cancer patients. Ultimately, this should help patients by giving them, their family members, their doctors, and researchers more and better tools to help diagnose, treat, and manage cancers in the future.
Another technological development, being led by the Department of Defense, is focusing on using artificial intelligence in order to help with processing and sorting the broad sets of data already collected by cancer researchers. Right now, there is so much data out there that it is hard for doctors, scientists, and other interested parties to dig through it all. By training artificial intelligence to sort through the data and pick out both the broad-scale insights as well as the specific points of data hidden deep within the material, new possibilities for treatment – and even possibly a cure – will be uncovered. It could also lead to better diagnosis capabilities, and early diagnosis is one of the best to improve a mesothelioma patient’s prognosis.
Prevention is another primary focus of the Cancer Moonshot report. For example, a number of initiatives are being designed to reduce lung cancer cases resulting from radon exposure, the second leading cause of lung cancer. (Asbestos exposure is also a cause of lung cancer.) These programs are seeking to increase radon testing and radon-resistant construction are more widely available.
Vice President Biden’s report also includes efforts to further promote the use of the HPV vaccine. The CDC will support the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable for an additional five years in an effort to get the vaccination to more young women by increasing access.
Although Vice President Biden’s report does not specifically address the preventability of mesothelioma, it should be noted that it is a completely preventable disease. By banning asbestos, we could eradicate the only known source of this terrible and deadly cancer. Through efforts such as the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2016, which would ban asbestos immediately in the U.S., we can severely reduce the incidence of mesothelioma and other diseases caused by this toxic substance.
While the goal of the Cancer Moonshot is to eventually eliminate cancer, it still largely focuses on treatments for those who are currently fighting the disease. The recent report includes updates on efforts to study Particle Beam Radiotherapy. This new technology can be used to deliver a dose of radiation to tumor cells with greater dose precision than conventional radiation therapy.
Another initiative the report highlights is one exploring the relationship between survivorship and art. The program, in coordination with the National Endowment for the Arts, builds on a successful military program that will now be implemented at hospitals and cancer centers. Art therapy has been successfully used in a variety of cancer patients as an alternative or supplemental treatment to help manage stress, anxiety, fear, and other emotional or psychological effects of cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Researchers are also continuing to look at emerging treatments such as immunotherapy. Some immunotherapy drugs, such as Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and Avastin (bevacizumab) have been particularly successful in combating cancer, either alone or in combination with traditional chemotherapy treatments.
One common theme throughout the report and across all areas of cancer research is the emergence of a number of public-private partnerships to facilitate and aid the Cancer Moonshot. The report includes donations by and initiatives launched with a number of different businesses and nonprofit organizations.
The different partnerships cut across the range of cancer fighting activities. For example Lyft and Uber, the popular ride-sharing services, announced a plan to provide ride credits for those in low-income communities. This will help people get treatments regularly and on time, increasing the chance of an optimal outcome.
There are also a number of technology companies such as Amazon and Microsoft that have announced collaborations to help researchers better model cancer genomes. Tech companies are also offering to help researchers leverage the power of the cloud in order to help with data access and computational issues.
While all this positive work is ongoing, there are some hurdles that the Cancer Moonshot still faces. In addition to the upfront recognition that the task before it is monumental, the project is also looking to overcome a lack of funding.
While there is broad support for the Moonshot, there have been problems in congress getting funding passed. Both Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have expressed a desire to get the program funded, but other members of Congress are worried about the costs. Some congressional representatives have predicted that the House will come back with between one half and two thirds of the $10 billion that the administration has requested to fully fund the Cancer Moonshot Initiative.
Another hurdle the initiative faces is the sheer amount of data that it involves. While many of its programs and initiatives focus on making it easier to share, organize, and understand data, that has so far proven to be a daunting task. Hopefully the private-public partnerships described above and efforts such as the DOD’s artificial intelligence project will be able to take on the task of making these mountains of data more manageable.
Moonshot Moving Forward
It remains to be seen how well the Cancer Moonshot will achieve its objectives. While there are barriers to be overcome, the recent report gives hope that America is moving down the path to creating a cancer-free world. While it’s never good to rush things, hopefully we can get there sooner rather than later.