News & Press

MRF & the Vice President’s Cancer Moonshot Program

Last month I was invited to participate in a summit meeting for Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot program, the aim of which is to achieve 10 years of progress in fighting cancer in only five years. Already this initiative has resulted in significant new collaborations and synergies, and I want to share a few details with you:
The meeting had about 300 attendees, many of whom were high-level leaders in the government, nonprofit and health industries, and was televised to more than 250 locations throughout the country who coordinated their own remote summits. I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Douglas Lowy, acting head of the National Cancer Institute, and John Kelly, who started and runs the Watson program for IBM.
Following the summit I was invited to join a small meeting led by the Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden to discuss how patients can be involved in the project. Representatives from a few organizations were present, including the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Also in this meeting were Dr. Robert Califf, head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Greg Simon, executive director of the Moonshot program. It was an important discussion and I am thrilled the melanoma community was represented.
In his opening remarks, Vice President Biden said he is not an expert at science or medicine, but he does know how to remove barriers to progress. For example, any researcher that receives NIH funding is required to make their data public within a year of completing the research. Currently, compliance to this policy is about 20%. This means that critical information that could inform other research is not available for people who want to build on existing data. The Vice President paused in his remarks, looked at the NIH Director and said, “Doc, people who don’t comply with this will have their funding cut.”
He pointed out other needless barriers to progress. His late son, Beau, was treated at Penn and at Walter Reed. When he needed further evaluation at MD Anderson, however, none of his medical records were compatible with the MD Anderson system. They had to photocopy the files and fly them physically to Texas before that evaluation could happen.
At the end of the day, Greg Simon summarized key takeaways of the summit which included the standardization of data processes, ensuring that the patient perspective shapes future decisions and the need for a serious conversation about the value and pricing of cancer treatment. 
During a midday break, I met with a Washington Post reporter covering the summit who asked how I felt the meeting was going. My response was this: We won’t know for a year if the meeting was successful—it all depends on what changes result from this milestone meeting. Click here to read the article and please keep an eye on the Cancer Moonshot initiative. Advocates will be an important voice to help ensure that this important opportunity is more than just talk.
Written by the MRF's Executive Director, Tim Turnham