Biden’s new moonshot goal is followed with comments Sharpless made at the American Association for Cancer Research conference last year that it’s possible to eradicate cancer in a great majority, especially in young people and healthy people.
The goal of reducing the cancer death rate in half was one of President Joe Biden‘s “bold but possible plans.” However, the National Cancer Institute head said that it would necessitate major leaps in population-level research and weeding out considerable gaps in care. “That’s a bold, but achievable goal,” NCI Director Ned Sharpless confidently said in an interview. “But if we’re going to reduce mortality by 50% in 25 years, we’re going to have to invest in the science and technologies that will do that”, he added.
The White House is launching a reiteration of Cancer Moonshot, one of Biden’s signature efforts during the Obama administration to increase the rate of progress in cancer prevention, treatment, and detection. The institute headed by Sharpless will play a vital role in spearheading the scientific advances that make Biden’s goal possible. “NCI could not be more central,” one of the officials said during a media briefing, adding that the White House is creating a Cancer Cabinet because this important endeavor extends beyond biomedical research.
“It reminded me a little bit of a wedding because it’s about 100 of your best friends, and you haven’t seen many of them in a while because of the pandemic. So it was nice to be in person. And then it was just this celebratory mood,” Sharpless said about attending the launch of the new moonshot.
Intensifying our research efforts by targeting specific communities would also help in significantly reducing inequities in cancer care, Sharpless said. The total cancer death rate has gone down in the U.S. Still, specific populations continue to receive a more decisive blow because of factors such as systemic racism in medicine, poverty, and lack of access to care. For example, according to the NCI, Black Americans have greater chances of dying because of cancer for many cancer types. In addition, Americans who live in rural Appalachia have more chances of experiencing incidence rates of colorectal, lung and cervical cancers.
The NCI is already doing studies in this area, and will continue pushing the envelope on scientific discoveries that lead to “fantastic medicines that are leading to great outcomes in cancer,” he said. “The initial version has, in many ways, been very successful and is a great set of scientific investigations,” Sharpless said.
Improvements in medical technology over the past decades in cutting-edge science such as immunotherapy, which teaches the immune system to fight off cancer cells, and targeted treatments are known as precision medicine, have led to a record number of favorable results in what Sharpless frequently calls the “golden age of cancer research.” Though it is very promising and the recent results are encouraging, it is still unclear how much Biden’s reignited moonshot initiative will cost. There’s about $400 million of unallocated cancer moonshot funding from the 21st Century Cures Act, but Sharpless emphasized that money will primarily support initiatives that are already in the works.
The current budget of NCI is about $6.5 billion and the American Association for Cancer Research asked congressional appropriators Feb. 3 for a $432 million increase for fiscal 2022. Sharpless is in high hopes that Congress will generously give out the support that the cancer research needs.