Moonshot Panel to Make Recommendations in June

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By Jeannie Baumann

March 7 — An advisory panel for President Barack Obama's cancer moonshot initiative is expected to deliver its recommendations on research opportunities in June, the NIH's acting cancer center director said March 7.

The Blue Ribbon Panel consists of scientists and other non-government voices who will help shape the $1 billion initiative led by Vice President Joe Biden to double the rate of progress on cancer treatments and prevention . The panel is an ad hoc working group of the National Cancer Advisory Board, the federal advisory body to the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute.

“The great need for progress in cancer is matched by the extraordinary opportunities for making advances.”

Blue Ribbon Panel

Douglas R. Lowy, the NCI's acting director, said during a cancer research policy forum that the panel will evaluate the current moonshot proposal with respect to the scientific opportunities and consider possibilities for collaboration and public-private partnerships. The panel also will consider other research opportunities and report its recommendations to the National Cancer Advisory Board during its meeting scheduled for June 20 to June 22.

Lowy said their recommendations will “help guide us in going forward with this initiative.”

The panel is evaluating the moonshot initiative along with a separate task force the president announced at the end of January . The task force consists of government agency heads, whereas the Blue Ribbon Panel consists of non-governmental members.

Lowy reiterated comments made by NIH Director Francis S. Collins just five days earlier that perhaps moonshot wasn't the most apt term to describe the initiative . Because cancer is actually many diseases with many different causes, Lowy said, no single intervention can prevent or cure them all, but advances in the moonshot and other research efforts can help prevent more cancers from developing and improve the outlook of cancer patients.

“The great need for progress in cancer is matched by the extraordinary opportunities for making advances,” Lowy said, adding that there has been progress on all fronts in fighting cancer, including new technology and more opportunities for greater progress. “Too many people still get cancer. Too many people who get cancer suffer and die from it. But there are many reasons for optimism.”

‘Death Sentence' Reprieve

There is the potential to do for cancer what science has done for the HIV virus, where an HIV-positive diagnosis is no longer considered a “death sentence” but is a treatable chronic disease, Lowy said.

“But it's more complicated [with cancer] because you're talking about the entire human genome rather than a virus that has a few genomes,” he said.

The NCI acting director also underscored the importance of federal funding in advancing progress in cancer treatments and therapies. During the policy forum, “Progress, Promise, And Challenges In The Era Of Precision Medicine,” Lowy noted that the $2 billion increase the NIH received in December through the congressional budget agreement provided the NCI with an additional $265 million, or about a 5 percent increase .

Calls for Funding

With that funding, he said, the NCI will be able to expand upon a “paradigm shifting” clinical trial that classifies cancers by genetic abnormalities that led to the cancer, rather than the body part from which they originated. The money will allow the NCI to expand this NCI-Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice (NCI-MATCH) Trial to work on pediatric cancers, he said.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) said during the forum the $2 billion increase for the NIH was good, “but we could be doing and we should be doing so much better.”

“We’ve got to continue to press for consistent and growing investments,” she said. “Medical research funding in America is not really discretionary. There has to be a permanent commitment.”

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) highlighted the House's passage of the 21st Century Cures bill (H.R. 6), which included mandatory funding for both the NIH and the Food and Drug Administration as part of its effort to modernize the medical innovation process. He noted that the Senate is working on its own initiative, and that “we want to get this bill in conference as soon as possible and get it to the president's desk by the end of the year.”

Both Bilirakis and Castor sit on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which approved 21st Century Cures. Both lawmakers' districts are in the Tampa Bay area, where the Moffitt Cancer Center is located. Moffitt hosted the cancer policy forum along with the American Association for Cancer Research.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Randy Kubetin at

For More Information

More information on the cancer research policy forum is available at

More information National Cancer Advisory Board's June meeting is available at on the