President Barack Obama’s announcement in January 2016 about a national Cancer Moonshot initiative has galvanized the cancer community over the last six months. The goal of this initiative, led by Vice President Joe Biden, is to accelerate discovery and progress in cancer – to complete ten years of progress in only five years.
Here is a brief snapshot of what is happening and how we at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and UPMC CancerCenter are contributing to this national priority.
Mr. Biden has convened an interagency White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, made up of leaders of federal agencies and executive branch departments and offices that touch upon the areas of cancer research and care (the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Energy and many more), which will be responsible for implementing the recommendations developed under the Cancer Moonshot initiative.
Acting Director of the National Cancer Institute, Douglas Lowy, MD, has assembled a Blue Ribbon Panel of scientists, physicians, advocates, and representatives from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to identify five to seven initiatives that would accelerate progress in seven key areas, including: data sharing; clinical trials; precision cancer treatment, detection and prevention; immunotherapy; implementation sciences; tumor evolution; and pediatric cancers. This group is taking input broadly across the cancer research community as well as the general public and will finalize a report of recommendations by September 1, 2016. Among those who will be commenting on the final plan is UPCI investigator and Distinguished Professor of Pathology Yuan Chang, MD, who sits on the National Cancer Advisory Board.
The Vice President’s Office is also reaching out across the country for advice and input. Peter Ellis, MD, Director of UPMC CancerCenter’s Medical Oncology Network, and I had a chance to talk with the Vice President’s Office about our unique capabilities here at UPCI/UPMC CancerCenter in June 2016. We highlighted our clinical pathways program as a way to implement what we already know, as well as our research expertise in areas like viruses and cancer. We assured the Vice President’s Office of our readiness and willingness to contribute to the efforts.
In my capacity as President of the American Association for Cancer Research, I led a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill on June 28, 2016 to inform our legislators about our progress against cancer and the opportunities that lie ahead of us. We were joined by Dr. Lowy, who outlined the National Cancer Institute’s ongoing work, as well as a special panel of five young researchers who talked about their passion and commitment toward cancer research and summarized some of the challenges that they face. Among them was our own Kara Bernstein, PhD, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, who discussed how her work in yeast model systems can inform work on DNA repair in people.
On June 29, 2016, I had the opportunity to join Vice President Biden as he hosted a national summit in Washington, DC for 350 researchers, oncologists, advocates, patients, families, and data and technology experts. This inspiring day featured keynote addresses and interactive workshops about how to accelerate progress and collaboration, as well as exciting announcements about new partnerships and initiatives that have already taken off.
But most importantly, UPCI hosted a local Western Pennsylvania Cancer Moonshot Summit at the Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside on June 29, 2016, bringing together 90 stakeholders from our own region to reflect on what we can do. Our summit was one of 270 events held on that day in all 50 states attended by more than 6,000 individuals. Our recommendations have been forwarded to the White House to inform the Cancer Moonshot efforts. Special thanks to Drs. Edward Chu, Maryann Donovan, and Linda Robertson who organized and led our Western Pennsylvania Moonshot Summit.
In addition to vibrant discussion and the establishment of foundations for future collaborations, our Cancer Moonshot Summit featured a most special guest. The Stanley Cup, which is awarded to the National Hockey League championship team each year -- currently our Pittsburgh Penguins -- made a cameo appearance at the Summit to mingle with our participants. There could not be a better symbol for what we are trying to accomplish. The Cup personifies the passion and commitment of the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, hockey legend and cancer survivor, Mario Lemieux, to excellence. It is the tangible result of a season of exceptional teamwork. We who are committed to making progress against cancer were inspired by its presence to bring the same energy, passion, persistence, resilience, and collaboration toward our goal of helping our patients become champions!