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The Cancer Moonshot Initiative

Ashley E. Glode, PharmD BCOP
Assistant Professor, Department of Clinical Pharmacy
University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Clinical Pharmacy Specialist
University of Colorado Cancer Center
Aurora, CO

In 2016, during his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead the Cancer Moonshot Initiative.1 It is so named as a “call to humankind to be bold and do big things” in reference to President Kennedy’s call to land on the moon.2 The goal of this initiative is to “eliminate cancer as we know it” and identify new ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat this disease.1 The Moonshot aims to accelerate research efforts and break down barriers to progress by enhancing access to data and fostering collaborations among key players. By bringing together researchers, doctors, philanthropies, patients and patient advocates, and biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, the initiative aims to double the rate of progress toward a cure for cancer.

The Cancer Moonshot Initiative Task Force consists of heads of executive branch departments, agencies, and offices.3 This initia­tive was funded by 1 billion federal dollars to spur momentum for this project with the promise of continued funding. The Task Force serves in an advisory role and will concentrate on maximizing federal investments, targeted incentives, private sector efforts from industry and philanthropy, patient engagement initiatives, and other mechanisms to support cancer research and expedite progress in treatment and care. The Task Force is working with de­partments and agencies focused on basic, translational, and clinical research; therapy development; regulation of medical products; and medical care related to cancer.

Some key functions of this task force include3

  • accelerating our understanding of cancer and its prevention, early detection, treatment, and cure
  • improving patient access and care
  • supporting greater access to new research, data, and compu­tational abilities
  • encouraging the development of cancer treatments
  • identifying and addressing any unnecessary regulatory barri­ers and considering ways to expedite administrative reforms
  • ensuring optimal investment of federal resources
  • identifying opportunities to develop public-private part­nerships and increasing coordination of the federal govern­ment’s efforts with the private sector as appropriate.

Following the announcement of the President’s Moonshot Ini­tiative, the Cancer Moonshot 2020 Program was created under the leadership of Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong as a comprehensive collabo­rative cancer enterprise with the focus of developing combination immunotherapy as the next generation standard of care in treating cancer patients.4 This national coalition consists of individuals from large pharmaceutical, biotech, major payer, and Fortune 500 companies; academia; and community oncology to work toward one common goal: to initiate randomized Phase 2 trials and enroll 20,000 patients at all stages of disease who have 20 different tumor types. These data will be utilized to create Phase 3 trials and the development of an effective vaccine-based immunotherapy treatment to combat cancer by 2020.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the most recent American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting on June 6 in Chicago, encouraging attendees and members to work together on this initiative.5 He emphasized that there should be a team approach to fast-track cancer research efforts and eliminate blockades to prog­ress by promoting data sharing and facilitating collaborations to advance cancer prevention, treatment, and care. No one individual can do this on his or her own. Information and progress must be shared to achieve the goal of reaching a decade of progress in only 5 years. During this speech he introduced a new project called the Genomic Data Commons (GDC), which is a public database for clin­ical genomic data administered by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to facilitate sharing among cancer researchers.6

Vice President Biden’s complete speech can be viewed on ASCO on demand at

Pharmacists have the potential to be involved in the Cancer Moonshot Initiative through many different avenues. HOPA President Sarah Scarpace Peters attended the Cancer Moonshot Summit on June 29 in Washington, DC, which was assembled by the Vice President. HOPA members were encouraged to watch the live broadcast as well as post comments on the HOPA Central discussion board.


1. The White House Office of the Press Secretary. FACT SHEET: Investing in the National Cancer Moonshot. Published February 1, 2016. Accessed June 16, 2016.

2. Melanie Garunay, The White House Blog. The first meeting of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force. first-meeting-cancer-moonshot-task-force. Published February 1, 2016. Accessed June 16, 2016.

3. The White House Office of the Press Secretary. Memorandum—White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force. Published January 28, 2016. Accessed June 16, 2016.

4. Cancer MoonShot 2020. 2016 National Immunotherapy Coalition. Accessed June 16, 2016.

5. Vice President Joe Biden’s Moonshot Address. American Society of Clin­ical Oncology (ASCO).­ Accessed June 16, 2016.

6. Nelson, R. Cancer moonshot: we have liftoff. Medscape Oncology. June 24, 2016. Accessed June 27, 2016.