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Everything You Need to Know About the White House’s Cancer Moonshot

February 1, 2016, 9:12 PM UTC
Preparations For The World Economic Forum (WEF) 2016
U.S. Vice President Joseph "Joe" Biden speaks during a panel session on cancer research, treatment and data science in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 46th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 20 - 23. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Joe Biden
Jason Alden—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force had its first official meeting today, making clearer the details behind the initiative President Obama introduced in his annual State of the Union address last month.

Dubbed a “moonshot” without the trip to space, the sky-high effort is essentially a re-doubled cancer research push, aimed at accomplishing in the next five years what would normally take ten. Headed by Vice President Biden, the effort aims to better coordinate cancer lab research and clinical data from around the country—while cutting down on unnecessary bureaucracy.

The $1 billion initiative begins immediately with $195 million in funding for the National Institutes of Health this year. But President Obama’s proposed 2017 budget, which he’ll submit to Congress next week, would add $755 million to that sum next year for more cancer research at both the NIH and the FDA.

According to a Medium post written by Vice President Biden introducing the task force, some of the team’s top priorities include:

  • Speeding up access to cancer databases for doctors and researchers,
  • Opening up clinical trials, and
  • Applying the funding so that “some of the best work going on has the funding that it needs.”

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So, what might 10 years of research packed into five look like? Some of the biggest cancer research breakthroughs in the past decade have included:

  • More than 60 FDA-approved anti-cancer drugs, with 14 approved in 2015,
  • A National Institutes of Health Cancer Genome Atlas that has sequenced tumor samples from 33 different types of cancer, and
  • A first-of-its-kind cancer vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer.


But as Fortune’s Clifton Leaf argues, much of what’s needed to boost today’s cancer research may be, like the trip to the moon, a question of building the right infrastructure. This would involve creating new tools for classifying and organizing cancer data and developing more streamlined systems for sharing research. But also, only 5% of today’s cancer patients are enrolled in clinical trials, and obstacles to participation will need to be reduced.

President Obama wants the U.S. to cure cancer:

As a father who lost his eldest son Beau to brain cancer last year, Biden’s fight is not all politics.

“I want you to know that I’ll be focusing the rest of the time I have in office — and the rest of my life — on this effort,” Biden wrote.

The task force’s first recommendations, set to be publicly available online, are due at the end of 2016.

On Feb. 2, this story was edited to note that the task force was not yet backed by $1 billion, but it would be if the President’s 2017 budget is approved.