The Hematologist

May-June 2016, Volume 13, Issue 3

Observations on the Moonshot

Charles S. Abrams, MD Professor of Medicine, Pathology, and Laboratory Medicine; Director,
PENN-CHOP Blood Center for Patient Care and Discovery, Philadelphia, PA

Published on: April 22, 2016

Each year, when the President of the United States rolls out a budget proposal, it can be a time of tension and uncertainty as well as high hopes and excitement. Back in February, we applauded the 2017 fiscal year budget proposal of President Barack Obama. It included $33.1 billion in funding to the National Institutes of Health (roughly $2 billion more than the 2016 request) and would provide roughly 10,000 new research grants as well as $755 million in mandatory funds for a project known as the “National Cancer Moonshot.” In late March 2016, we also heard that there is a promised influx of private dollars to help move the initiative forward. So what is significant about the Moonshot, and how will it impact research, policy, and the care of patients with hematologic malignancies?

The goal of the National Cancer Moonshot is to harness the advancements in cancer therapy that are currently underway, with the ultimate goal of taking big, bold steps toward researching and eradicating cancer. To launch the next phase of discovery, the initiative will begin investing in cancer-related activities throughout a number of agencies and institutes. These activities include prevention and cancer vaccine development, early cancer detection, cancer immunotherapy and combination therapy, genomic analysis of tumor and surrounding cells, enhanced data sharing, and other programs. (Learn more at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/02/01/fact-sheet-investing-national-cancer-moonshot.)

To date, the “Moonshot” has garnered praise from numerous experts, including within our own community of hematologists. But it has also invited a number of questions surrounding investment, and the feasibility of such a sweeping project in a contentious political environment. In the midst of all this, hematologists who specialize in malignant disorders might be contemplating what a concerted effort on the part of societies and advocacy groups like ASH might actually look like, and how they could become involved. How do we ensure hematology’s seat at the table, and how do we work with the administration and policy leaders to keep these actions focused and progressing? In an election year, these questions need to be asked so that Moonshot can remain viable and extend beyond a hotly contested sprint for The White House.

The time is right for us as a society and as a community at large to define and express the value of our input in this important conversation and in subsequent discussions and actions. In the coming year, ASH will continue to meet with key officials steering the initiative. One way that we hope to influence the dialogue is through the ASH Agenda for Hematology Research, which was created to help agencies to navigate, prioritize, and build consensus around the most promising areas in hematologic research. This kind of alignment will not only assist the Moonshot initiative in maintaining its focus, but it will help guide decision-making to ensure that reasonable, sustainable investment choices are made. For example, emerging immunologic therapies and genomic profiling are two key priorities in which Moonshot and the ASH Research Agenda find direct alignment. With this in mind, ASH has prepared recommendations for the Moonshot on specific action items such as funds appropriation, creating incentives for data sharing, and identifying opportunities to increase collaboration and access to clinical trials.

During times of great promise and rapid change, we can’t stress enough the importance of making sure our voices are heard. Through advocacy and outreach, ASH members can be instrumental in educating both the public and political leaders about current hematology research as well as its rich history of contributions to cancer treatment. This Moonshot opportunity is no different. Stay tuned to this publication and to www.hematology.org for ways to stay informed and involved.

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