President Joe Biden relaunched his Cancer Moonshot initiative, placing an emphasis on screening, early detection, and prevention. The plan calls for a 50% reduction in death rates from cancer over the next 25 years—but it does not include any new research funding to help achieve that goal.

The Cancer Moonshot is back.

On February 2, President Joe Biden renewed his commitment to “end cancer as we know it,” unveiling a plan to slash death rates from the disease in half over the next 25 years.

“We'll bring a fierce sense of urgency to the fight against cancer,” said Biden at a White House ceremony. “It's bold, it's ambitious, but it's completely doable.”

The reignited Moonshot program will primarily emphasize screening, early detection, and prevention initiatives. Other priorities outlined by the White House include tackling inequities in cancer care, supporting patients and caregivers, personalizing treatment regimens, and accelerating progress against rare cancers and pediatric tumors.

To coordinate activities across the various branches of the federal government, Biden intends to form a “cancer cabinet” spearheaded by Eric Lander, PhD, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Danielle Carnival, PhD. Carnival, who helped run the Moonshot Task Force from 2016–2017 and later co-led the nonprofit Biden Cancer Initiative, will serve as White House's new cancer “coordinator.”*

One thing that was notably absent from the Moonshot announcement was any mention of how to fund it.

The original program, which Biden presided over in the final year of the Obama administration before former President Donald Trump disbanded the office overseeing it, led to passage of the 21st Century Cures Act and authorization of $1.8 billion in supplemental funding for the NCI over 7 years.

In contrast, the 2022 Moonshot reboot will not bring any new financial earmarks. Instead, the White House hopes to leverage roughly $410 million in remaining NCI-budgeted funds from the earlier effort to support its new agenda. Biden's proposed $6.5 billion Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, if funded by Congress, could serve a complementary function as well (Cancer Discov 2021;11:2120).


Leading cancer researchers welcomed news of the Moonshot's relaunch.

“It has tremendous potential impact,” said Raphael Pollock, MD, PhD, director of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus. He argued that enhanced screening in communities with limited access to health care, as called for under Biden's program, offers “the biggest bang for our buck” and makes the goal of dramatically reducing cancer mortality “very achievable.”

Chi Van Dang, MD, PhD, scientific director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in New York, NY, agreed. “I think the focus on prevention is right on the mark,” he said. “There are significant gaps in the implementation of current screening technologies as well as a need to develop new ones.”

Although cancer detection and prevention may not seem to be “exciting science”—especially when compared to, say, cutting-edge immunotherapies—Dang noted that it “can make a major impact in reducing deaths from cancer.”

However, Dang, who helped make recommendations for the original Moonshot as part of a blue-ribbon panel of leading cancer experts, would also like to see the program's second go-around include a research focus.

Last year, he and two colleagues—David Agus, MD, of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and Elizabeth Jaffee, MD, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD—outlined a vision for what a “Moonshot 2.0” could look like, highlighting opportunities in clinical data sharing, machine learning innovations, and new drug delivery systems, among other things (Lancet Oncol 2021;22:164–5).

A commission convened by The Lancet Oncology and led by the three clinician-scientists has spent the past year gathering additional recommendations that will form a scientific road map for achieving cancer control (Cancer Discov 2021;11:527–8).

“We were all waiting for this announcement [of the Moonshot's return],” Agus said, “and now the challenge is to actually integrate all these ideas that many have across the country to really make a difference and lessen the suffering.” –Elie Dolgin

*After this story was originally published online, Lander resigned. See Noted, p. 880.

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