Since the launch in 2016 of the Cancer Moonshots program under the National Cures Act, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has invested nearly $1 billion in Moonshots funding, supporting over 240 research projects across more than 70 cancer science initiatives. The program’s mission: to accelerate scientific discovery in cancer, foster greater collaboration, and improve the sharing of data.
That investment has led to many important insights tied to the Moonshot’s key research priorities, from improving and expanding cancer immunotherapies to finding ways to overcome treatment resistance to identifying new targets for pediatric cancer. In a January 2021 update at the program’s midpoint, NCI Director Norman E. Sharpless, M.D. and Assistant Director Dinah Singer, Ph.D. write:
“By focusing on areas of cancer research that are most likely to undergo rapid translation to the patient as a result of new investment, the Moonshots Program has brought together a large community of investigators and clinicians who are dedicated to expediting research to benefit people with cancer and their loved ones.”
Moonshots’ owes its inception to President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, who spurred the funding and launch of the initiative five months after losing their son Beau to glioblastoma. At the time, Joe Biden pledged to “end cancer as we know it,” a pledge that he renewed in his first 30 days as President and again in his speech to Congress and the nation in late April.
“I want you to know that, once we beat Covid, we’re going to do everything we can to end cancer as we know it,” he said after touring the Pfizer vaccine manufacturing facility in mid-February.
From the outset, the Bidens focused on their observation, gleaned from talking with many top research leaders, that research silos and unconnected databases were impeding progress and wasting precious intellectual capital and dollars.
Much like the MD Anderson Moonshots Program that inspired the Biden initiative, we have sought to prioritize translational research programs – those most likely to produce meaningful therapeutics for cancer patients. The MD Anderson Moonshots Program utilizes professional platforms in drug discovery, data science and cancer control to systematically convert actionable knowledge into new drugs and prevention policies to accelerate declines in cancer mortality.