What is the Cancer Moonshot?

Before 1969 landing on the moon seemed impossible. Then, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed there, our nation realized that anything is possible! The Cancer Moonshot aims to do just that: make the seemingly impossible, possible again! Finding a cure for cancer has always seemed like an impossible feat, but the Cancer Moonshot will get us a step closer to that.

So you might ask, what exactly is the Cancer Moonshot? It is a government initiative aimed at making ten years worth of advancements in just five years time. President Obama announced this start of this initiative in his last State of the Union speech in January 2016. He called on his right hand man, Vice President Joe Biden, to lead the charge in the fight against cancer.

VP Biden has an extremely personal tie to this cause. “It’s personal for me. But it’s also personal for nearly every American, and millions of people around the world. We all know someone who has had cancer, or is fighting to beat it. They’re our family, friends, and co-workers,” stated the Vice President.

In May 2015 Biden lost his son, Joseph “Beau” Biden III, to cancer. In 2013, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He underwent surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments. After, he assumed his position as Delaware’s Attorney General, however, he suffered a recurrence and his health rapidly declined.

Having lost a son at such a young age to cancer, VP Biden has made it his mission to fight for a cancer cure. “Today, cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide. And that’s only expected to increase in the coming decades — unless we make more progress today. I know we can,” Biden confidently says.

Vice President Biden, along with the Task Force, will work to ensure approximately $1 billion in funding will be used to improve cancer research efforts. These efforts will be in a variety of different areas including, but not limited to, patient involvement, clinical trials, immunotherapy, cancer prevention, early detection/diagnosis, cancer data sharing, pediatric cancer, treatment option side effects, cancer technologies, etc.

How Does Data Impact Cancer Research?

When it comes to research, there has always been a problem with accessibility of data. Data is there, but due to the nature of cancer it has been very difficult to share. Different healthcare systems use different types of data standards–or in some cases do not have standards–so it is very tough to share across different platforms.


A monumental stride was taken by the National Cancer Institutes (NCI) with the Genomic Data Commons (GDC). This searchable and interactive database will allow doctors to access the most recent information on treatments and trials from all around the United States. This portal is the first of it’s kind and will be used to help sharing data, as well as analyzing it. The genomic trail left by this type of standard database will lead to clinical advancements. Researchers will have the ability to better unveil patterns and outliers in clinical trials and testing. In response, patients will more rapidly be able to find out when they could benefit from certain treatments.

What Is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that uses particular parts of a patient’s immune system to fight of different types of diseases and ailments. This can be used for all sorts of treatments needs, as simple as allergy treatment. When it comes to cancer though, the process becomes a little more difficult to nail down, because of the hundreds of different types of cancers–often times even having different cell types.

Essentially, immunotherapy can work in one of two ways. One way is by stimulating a person’s own immune system to work smarter and harder to attack and fight off cancer cells. In other cases though, a patient might need man-made immune system proteins in order to help with the process of fighting off cancer cells.

In order to make advancements in this area The National Immunotherapy Coalition will bring together other large pharmaceutical companies like Amgen and Celgene–along with smaller biotechs–to test our a wide variety of different drugs used for immunotherapy. Ideally, the groups will find treatments that best help a large patient-base, and also are the least toxic. Genomic testing will be used to match drugs to specific types of cancer, while continuing to sequence DNA throughout the treatments. The DNA sequencing will help doctors and researchers better understand how cancer cells can change and mutate when given certain types of drugs.