White House pledges $1B to launch 'moonshot' project but it's not enough to cure cancer

The White House administration will ask Congress for $1 billion in mandatory funding to support President Barack Obama's new "moonshot" initiative to find a cure for cancer. But researchers interviewed by The New York Times say the funds aren't enough.

The initiative aims to accelerate research efforts by enhancing data access and facilitating collaboration among key stakeholders. The White House administration hopes the efforts will make more therapies available to more cancer patients.

The funding will provide $195 million in new cancer activities at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in fiscal year 2016 and $755 million in mandatory funds in 2017 to cover research at both NIH and the Food and Drug Administration, the White House said in the announcement.

The moonshot taskforce, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, aims for the funds to pay for research to develop a vaccine to prevent cancer; provide methods for screening and early detection of cancer, improve cancer immunotherapy and combination therapy, and break down barriers between public and private institutions to improve data sharing. In addition, the funds will allow the Food and Drug Administration to develop an oncology center to accelerate development of products for prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment.

But researchers interviewed by The New York Times say the money isn't nearly enough to reach the moon. Major advances in cancer research can take 10 years and billions of dollars, they said. However, they said the White House's attention to cancer may help accelerate changes in research.

"This is not a moonshot, since there's not nearly enough money for such a thing," Robert Cook-Deegan, M.D., a research professor at Duke University, told the newspaper. "But if they could spur a change in the culture of cancer research, that would be an important legacy."

Efforts to eliminate cancer will require a galactic effort, according to José Baselga, M.D., Ph.D., physician-in-chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and president of the American Association for Cancer Research, in a piece for U.S. News & World Report. The reason it is so difficult is because cancer isn't one disease, he said. It is hundreds of diseases and every patient and tumor is different.

Funding is one piece of the puzzle, he wrote. It will also require bipartisan leaders who support these efforts. "We need bipartisan leaders who are inspired to act. They must overcome the barriers to increased, sustained funding and timely legislation to foster true collaboration. This will fuel the continued breakthroughs. Following these paths, Americans can discover more effective strategies to prevent, control and ultimately cure cancer," he wrote.

To learn more:
- read the White House's announcement
- here's The New York Times article
- read the U.S. News & World Report story