The Biden-Harris campaign has made science a cornerstone of its agenda. The candidates say they will listen to scientists and take quick action on the coronavirus pandemic. They will also address racial justice and climate change. We expect the Biden administration to launch new research initiatives on cancer, infectious diseases, and climate science. They will also maintain existing federal initiatives on artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and advanced materials. In addition, science agencies are expected to expand science participation by under-represented minorities and women. These agencies would promote safe and inclusive research environments. The new administration is also likely to reverse the Trump administration’s limitations on fetal tissue research.
What will Biden mean for research?
At a campaign stop in Iowa in June 2019, Joe Biden declared, “I promise you if I am elected president, you are going to see the single most important thing that changes America. We are going to cure cancer.” As Biden ascends to the presidency, the cancer research community is watching closely to see what steps he takes to reach that goal.
Some hope he will continue to build on the Cancer Moonshot initiative, launched when Biden served as vice president. Others are pushing for cancer research to be included in the next COVID-19 relief package. Many acknowledge that the pandemic will remain a top healthcare priority for now. But, they expect cancer-related issues to progress in importance over the next few years. All agree that cancer research will be part of Biden’s administration’s legacy in one form or another.
Following his son Beau’s death from glioblastoma in 2015, Biden became the country’s cancer advocate-in-chief. He dedicated the final year of President Obama’s term to fighting cancer through the White House’s Moonshot initiative. Its goal: to make more therapies available to patients, accelerate research and facilitate disease early detection and prevention. Biden often spoke of doubling the rate of progress toward a cancer cure.
A Blue-Ribbon Panel of experts identified ten research priorities. These ranged from:
- the need to create various research networks as some focused on emerging treatment modalities such as immunotherapy,
- others geared towards improving their outreach and patient engagement to fund technological development and the generation of tumor atlases.
Overcoming treatment resistance and the need for evidence-based symptom management made this list, as did a push to interrogate fusion-driven pediatric cancers, among other recommendations. There is a focus on greater data sharing and collaboration undergirding it all.
Moonshot happened at a very opportune time, as it provided the resources to get a lot of very translational work done. Because of the basic science engine’s productivity over the last decades, it was necessary to carry some of these ideas from the preclinical space into the next realm of clinical research.
However, the initiative was about much more than additional NCI funding. For Biden, the Moonshot initiative was a call-to-action, all-hands-on-deck effort across government and the private sector to improve clinical care, advance research, and help patients through their cancer journey.
Taking the initiative:
With Biden entering the Oval Office, and with the Democratic Party’s pledge to build on Moonshot’s foundation, most cancer researchers and policymakers now expect that to change. Hopefully, we see something like Moonshot come out in this next administration with some clear objectives of what it can accomplish in the long and short term.
To that end, Jaffee, Agus, and Chi Van Dang, MD, PhD, of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, came up with some ideas about what could be next. Outlining their vision for “Moonshot 2.0,” these researchers propose setting new data standards and establishing data repositories for sharing real-world patient records in a privacy-protected way.
The COVID-19 pandemic will remain Biden’s number-one health priority. One sign of his commitment to the research enterprise came on January 15 when he nominated Eric Lander to serve as science adviser and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Many of Biden’s closest confidantes are dedicated to the cancer cause. His wife is a longtime advocate for breast cancer research and early detection. As First Lady, they expect her to continue that work. Which then raises the question: Among those close to the president, who will be on point for cancer? Will there be a new cancer czar?
One thing seems certain, however. There is an advocate for cancer in the White House like never before. There is little doubt that another major initiative is in the offing for cancer researchers. It is not whether Cancer Moonshot 2.0 will happen—it will happen; it is just a question of when.
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