An ambitious, nationwide "moon shot" effort to treat cancer has received a shoutout from no less than President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address.
"For the loved ones we've all lost, for the Joe Biden family we can still save, let's make America the country that cures cancer once and for all," the U.S. president said on Tuesday, a quick pitch of the brainchild of Vice-President Joe Biden that aims to finally end the scourge.
Cancer MoonShot 2020
Cancer MoonShot 2020 is a national initiative for "next generation standard of care" in cancer sufferers.
Biden, whose adult son and former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden died of brain cancer in early 2015, discussed its initial framework with biopharmaceutical companies and regulatory leaders back in December.
This effort will initiate randomized phase II trials in cancer patients at all stages in 20 tumor types, aiming to cover 20,000 patients within the next three years.
"These findings will inform Phase III trials and the aspirational moonshot to develop an effective vaccine-based immunotherapy to combat cancer by 2020," said the Cancer MoonShot 2020 website.
The initial framework spawned the National Immunotherapy Coalition (NIC), a cross-industry research group made up of pharmaceuticals such as Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, biotech companies, and academic institutions such as MD Anderson.
Dubbed the QUILT program, this project will launch clinical trials combining data on over 60 cancer immunotherapies in up to 20 cancer types, including brain, blood, lung, breast, and pancreatic cancers.
The therapies will be open-accessed in the pursuit of long-term remission in cancer patients in phase I and II research.
"And because he's gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past 40 years, I'm putting Joe in charge of mission control," Obama announced during his last address.
Last year, Biden declared that he would no longer pursue the Democratic presidential nomination. "[I]f I could have been anything, I would have wanted to be the president that ended cancer," he said.
At least one insurer is getting on board. Independence Blue Cross said it will cover patient costs for the research's next-generation whole genome sequencing. CEO Daniel J. Hilferty expressed commitment to providing state-of-the-art oncological advances and offering "accessible and affordable" care.
Quite A Moon Shot?
The American Cancer Society noted that deaths from cancer are down 23 percent in the last 21 years. This year, experts predicted that there will be more than 1.6 million new cases of the disease as well as more than 595,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.
ACS chief medical officer Dr. Otis Brawley said the Obama-endorsed plan may not be too realistic after all. "In my world, 'cure' is a four letter word, but we are going to cure some people," Dr. Brawley said, adding that it is likely impossible to find a single cure to fix at least 200 types of cancer around.
Nobel Prize winner Dr. Harold Varmus, who formerly sat as the National Cancer Institute's director, said the biological differences in cancer types present a tough problem.
"Curing cancer is tough and the biological variation in cancer types is profound and presents a big problem with all the different mutations in different cancers," he said.
Dr. Varmus highlighted the disease as a crucial "political cause" feared much less today given cure-related developments since the time of President Richard Nixon, who declared a war on cancer during his time.
High Time for Cancer Cure
It's high time to have cancer cure as a presidential priority, according to analysts such as Dr. Wally Curran, Winship Cancer Institute's executive director.
"If we had this happen during the Reagan era, we didn't have the science to take this far enough," he said. He thought that while a total cure is a long shot, taking the research further will enhance life expectancy and make cancer treatment akin to chronic disease management.
In his statement following Obama's speech, Biden said he will promote collaboration in these efforts in hopes of sharing the research that is stuck in silos and impeding "faster progress and greater reach to patients."
Dr. Varmus also pinpointed reimbursement as a key move, particularly those from Medicare and Medicaid. A mere 5 percent of cancer sufferers, for instance, get to participate in clinical trials.