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Countdown to a Cure: What's Next for the Cancer Moonshot


The Cancer Moonshot Summit, held June 29 in Washington, brought together hundreds of leaders across the health, academic, private industry, philanthropic and patient advocacy sectors under the national charge of doubling the rate of progress toward ending cancer as we know it.

Join FasterCures for a free Webinar, Tuesday, July 19, from 11 a.m. to noon Eastern, to discuss the summit highlights, explore new opportunities that emerged and forecast the vision going forward for the moonshot initiative for the remainder of the year.

Speakers include: 

  • Greg Simon, Executive Director, Cancer Moonshot Task Force
  • Ellen Sigal, Chairperson & Founder, Friends of Cancer Research
  • Margaret Anderson, Executive Director, FasterCures, a center of the Milken Institute (moderator)


The Cancer Moonshot Summit recently brought together hundreds of leaders across the medical research sectors to engage them in one mission: achieve a decade’s worth of progress toward ending cancer in five years. But then what? The presenters of a July 19 FasterCures Webinar agreed that the time is right to make tremendous progress and that, with the support and energy of the nation, the Moonshot team can be successful.

Moderated by Margaret Anderson, executive director of FasterCures, speakers Greg Simon, executive director of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, and Ellen Sigal, chair and founder of Friends of Cancer Research, offered their insights and answered participant questions about where the initiative is headed.

Anderson began the session by introducing Simon, who was the founding president of FasterCures. Simon began with a walk-through of the Moonshot Task Force, which he said reflects the original Moonshot launched by President John Kennedy because it “puts technology at the service of humanity.”

Overview of the Moonshot

The Cancer Moonshot Task Force was announced by President Barack Obama during his final State of the Union address in January. Vice President Joe Biden, who was tapped to lead this national effort, assembled 20 federal agencies to take part in the mission as the Task Force. These agencies were charged with developing initiatives within the government and between the government and the private sector. Additionally, within the Vice President’s office, a Cancer Moonshot Team is reaching out to the public for their involvement, promoting new initiatives in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer and generating private-sector philanthropy and investment focused on cancer.

“We have to look at the first fact…we know what the problems are. We know we can do things fast, better, and in some cases cheaper. But the problem is the culture,” said Simon, describing the great impediment to research progress. The lag time in awarding grants, difficulty recruiting young people to the field, lack of information sharing and poor communication were all issues Simon pointed to as requiring systemic change.

Simon Webinar quote

During the Moonshot Summit in Washington, DC, on June 29, a set of new partnerships was announced. These collaborations across the public and private sectors are driving cultural change. One example of the bold accomplishments in the field is a partnership that connects patients through digital and social channels to help them communicate with one another about their cancer. "This is about using all the new technologies to help human beings get through their lives without the scourge of cancer,” said Simon.

He acknowledged that, while there is huge motivation to be involved, there are some systemic changes that can only happen in the government. The key to success is finding ways to bring all the parties together. That is why the Task Force is developing a road map of what has begun under this administration and what needs to continue in order to make cultural and programmatic change.

Charge of the Blue Ribbon Panel

Ellen Sigal, among her many roles in the research sector, is a member of the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel. The objective of the Blue Ribbon Panel is to provide expert advice on the vision and scientific goals of the Cancer Moonshot. Our goal is "better, more efficient, safe and effective treatments to patients,” said Sigal. The panel is comprised of some of the top minds in cancer research. Sigal’s discussion gave greater detail on the recommendations the panel will be delivering.

In her words, the recommendations will be “audacious and broad” in their effort to accelerate the pace of cancer research. The panel is targeting to release five to ten specific, actionable recommendations soon. To help generate ideas, working groups are meeting to identify major scientific opportunities that are poised for acceleration. These groups are working tirelessly to formulate their guidance and have identified several cross-cutting themes to highlight such as collaboration, prevention and data sharing.

The panel is on a tight timeframe and plans to submit its final recommendations to the National Cancer Advisory Board on July 20 for review and discussion. The final report will be released in August.

Sigal Webinar quote

One recommendation that has already been put into place is the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Oncology Center of Excellence. This Center of Excellence breaks down barriers internally at FDA, integrating personnel across centers, and taking a more patient-centered approach to the review process. "The integration of cancer experts working together will have a profound impact,” Sigal said.

Questions from the Audience

Simon and Sigal then had a chance to address several questions that came in from listeners in advance of and during the Webinar.

  • Anderson began with a question for Simon, “What can the rest of the biomedical research community learn from the Cancer Moonshot?” Simon mentioned that many of the outcomes of the Moonshot will reach across the entire biomedical system, from streamlining the federal grant process to creating more patient-friendly clinical trials. The lessons learned from these endeavors will be applicable across the board. He noted that using cancer as a starting point made sense because of its complexity as a disease. There are existing resources, databases, tools and knowledge of cancer that offer the ability to make vast change. Sigal added that many cancer patients have comorbid conditions that will offer lessons learned for other disease areas.
  • Anderson then moved on to the question of maintaining inclusivity and determining who gets a seat at the table in Task Force discussions. Simon answered by saying that the Task Force is taking advantage of better communication technologies and that they have cast a wide net to get insight from external parties. But he also noted that the Task Force has to compress its work to fit the time available and to keep eye on the mission.
  • Many audience members were skeptical about the ability to transform public-private partnerships. Anderson asked for both panelists to weigh in on how these partnerships can evolve and progress. “Government needs to take a leadership role. There needs to be seamless interactions between the private sector and government,” according to Simon. He mentioned that for too long the private sector has taken the lead and that federally funded research has not changed in 40 years. Sigal warned against allowing patients to get squeezed in the middle of these partnerships. She said, “The patient is the North Star,” and should guide all the of the Moonshot efforts. She offered that rules of engagement, with the goal of being patient-focused, need to be developed.
  • Data-sharing efforts was mentioned in many listeners’ questions. Anderson asked the panelists what could be done to improve data sharing in the industry. Both panelists agreed that data sets become more valuable when they are linked. Simon even went so far as to say that locking data is doing a disservice to the patient. He described protecting data sets this way, “We are creating huge castles, with very big moats around them.”
  • Several questions about how the Moonshot might address metastatic cancer were asked of the panelists. One fix that Simon addressed was the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, which does not include metastatic data now, but will in the future. On the regulatory side of metastatic data, Sigal mentioned that FDA is addressing the issue head on. They are currently working to find ways to integrate metastatic patients into clinical trials without jeopardizing the outcomes.
  • Anderson asked Simon to address the topic of genomics, proteomics and how the Moonshot is including “omics” of all varieties. Simon replied, “We’ve got omics covered!” He dove into the ways that using genomic data helps researchers by giving them the huge amount of information they need. He also pointed out that patients are best served by sequencing their specific type of cancer, not their entire gene.
  • The panel ended by discussing the topic of cancer prevention. Sigal mentioned that within the Blue Ribbon Panel, there is a committee focused on prevention and that it is had been identified as a cross-cutting theme. Simon called prevention the “hardest science” because people often resist doing the right things. Still, he said, we cannot give up on prevention because 50 percent of cancers are preventable.

Based on the energy and determination of Simon and Sigal, and the many scientists and advocates they represent, we can be confident that the new public and private sector actions coming out of the Moonshot Summit will drive progress toward ending cancer as we know it.

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