Vice President Joe Biden in 2012.

Vice President Joe Biden in 2012.

Marc Nozell/Flicker (CC BY 2.0)

Scientific advisers tapped to guide Biden’s cancer moonshot

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) today named a blue ribbon panel of scientists and other experts to help guide Vice President Joe Biden’s ambitious $1 billion moonshot to cure cancer.

Announced during President Barack Obama’s January State of the Union Address, the moonshot project will aim to double progress against cancer in the next 5 years and break down silos that prevent researchers from working together. NCI is spending $195 million on the effort this year and Obama has requested another $680 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for next year.

The 28-member blue ribbon panel, a working group of the NCI’s National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB), will have three co-chairs: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge cancer biologist Tyler Jacks, who is chair of NCAB; Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, cancer immunologist Elizabeth Jaffee; and NCI acting deputy director Dinah Singer. The other panelists include cancer center directors, researchers in tumor genomics and cancer immunotherapy, patient advocates, and industry leaders, including Patrick Soon-Shiong, CEO of NantWorks, who recently launched his own cancer moonshot to test immunotherapy drugs.

Some have asked why yet another campaign to conquer cancer is needed now, 45 years after President Nixon declared war on cancer. In a perspective today in the The New England Journal of Medicine, NIH Director Francis Collins and NCI acting director Douglas Lowy offer an explanation. Advances such as a new understanding of cancer as a genomic disease and successes with immunotherapy—harnessing the immune system to thwart tumors—mean that “the time is right for a renewed surge against cancer,” they write. They elaborate on several focus areas described by the White House earlier: preventive vaccines, early detection, single cancer cell genomics, immunotherapy, pediatric cancer, and data sharing. The commentary also reiterates a proposal for a special fund to fund promising research quickly.

The advisory board will take ideas from the public and hold a summit later this spring to discuss collaborations with industry. It will pass its ideas to NCAB, which will release a proposed research plan by late summer. The White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, an interagency group led by Greg Simon, a cancer patient and industry executive, will then deliver a report to President Obama by the end of the year.