WASHINGTON » Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Monday released a federal report on the cancer moonshot initiative that highlights goals to accelerate the development of cures, including more widespread sharing of data and faster research and approval timelines for new treatments.
Biden presented to President Barack Obama the report from the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, a federal panel with representatives from the Health and Human Services Department, National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration and others.
Both the president and vice president have been personally touched by cancer. Obama noted in remarks at the White House Monday that his mother died from cancer in her early 50s, while Biden’s son Beau Biden died last year at the age of 46.
“I’m looking forward to not only laying the groundwork for the next administration to pick up the baton and run with it, but I know Joe and Jill and I and Michelle will all continue to be involved after we’ve left this office in making sure that this works,” Obama said.
Biden said he was optimistic about new emerging technologies and treatments that could save lives.
“The fundamental thing I’ve come away with is there is a need for a greater sense of urgency because there are available answers now to some cancers and there is enormous opportunity in sharing data,” Biden said. “There is real excitement.”
The report lists several accomplishments the administration achieved under the program since its inception earlier this year and outlines goals for fiscal 2017 and beyond. But one potential barrier to the initiative’s future could be the lack of dedicated funding.
The program has yet to receive any federally appropriated money. Neither of the pertinent spending bills for next year that the Senate and House Appropriations committees approved included funding directly for the moonshot initiative. Both, however, did increase funds for the National Cancer Institute and the NIH more broadly.
The report highlights Obama’s request for $1 billion in fiscal 2017 for the moonshot effort and alludes to the difficulty in advancing the program without additional federal money.
“Funding and resource limitations are an ongoing challenge. Nonetheless, the vision is to improve existing programs so that they work optimally, efficiently, and with a broader perspective on their opportunities to improve health care quality,” the report states.
While some patient advocates have expressed concern about the future of the program once Obama leaves office should Congress fail to allocate any money directly to it, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said earlier this year that, if elected, she would continue to “carry out the mission” Biden envisioned.
The report identifies several focus areas to help achieve the program’s goal of conducting 10 years of cancer research in only five years.
Among those is a greater emphasis on the sharing of data. Biden has been highly critical of researchers’ tendency to keep data and other information private.
“The way the system now is set up, researchers are not incentivized to share their data,” he said earlier this year at the annual meeting of the nonprofit American Association for Cancer Research. “Too often grants are given for what you’ve already done rather than what you are doing.”
That information is often viewed as proprietary by officials at institutions, such as academic medical research universities, because it helps them win federal grants from agencies like the NIH.
In its report, the task force says the rapid sharing of data and subsequent analyses is imperative. The report also highlights the need to develop a workforce with the expertise necessary to analyze large volumes of data.
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