Health IT has role to play in Joe Biden's 'moonshot' to cure cancer

A "moonshot" initiative spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden is underway to find a cure for cancer, and health IT will have a big role to play in the effort.

The task was set forth by President Barack Obama during his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

"Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer ... I'm announcing a new national effort to get it done. And because he's gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I'm putting Joe in charge of Mission Control," Obama said.

The task, Biden writes in a blog post, is a personal one. Biden's son, Beau, died last May of brain cancer at the age of 46.

Biden says now is the time to find a cure, and that healthcare is up to the task.

"Several cutting-edge areas of research and care ... could be revolutionary," he writes. "Innovations in data and technology offer the promise to speed research advances and improve care delivery."

Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative may also play a large part in the effort, which the president announced during last year's State of the Union.

As Biden's initiative moves forward, industry experts for the vice president, including recognizing the power and importance of health data.

Getting information from great numbers of cancer patients and analyzing the data "could provide quick and important advances," Otis Brawley, M.D., chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society and professor at Emory University, tells STAT.

In addition, Brawley says the vice president should try to help improve privacy laws, such as HIPAA, that keep researchers from collecting important patient information.

Austin Frakt, Ph.D., a health economist for the Department of Veteran Affairs, also points out the need for data infrastructure. Barriers to obtaining and analyzing data slow research, he tells STAT. "Beefing up data availability and data infrastructure and removing regulatory and other obstacles would speed up research," he says.

The use of data in cancer care and research is already becoming more common.

CancerLinQ, a project from the American Society of Clinical Oncology that aims to use big data analytics to improve cancer care, is moving toward broader deployment. In addition, the American Association for Cancer Research in November launched an international genomic and clinical data-sharing project called GENIE (Genomics, Evidence, Neoplasia, Information, Exchange).

To learn more:
- read Biden's post
- here's the STAT article
- check out Obama's State of the Union transcript