Dear Vice President Biden:
Your Cancer Moonshot initiative is commendable, with its core goals to make more therapies available to more patients, while supporting improvements to prevent cancer, and detect it earlier.
The core elements of the Cancer Moonshot from a research and drug discovery standpoint are sound, but the overarching framework lacks a critical keystone. Let me explain.
Our continued approach to cancer as a ‘war’ is misguided. Our 40-year-plus tactics have done little to reduce casualties. That’s because of the missing piece of the cancer epidemic puzzle: comprehensive prevention.
It is the foundation of prevention in which our country is, at best, asleep at the wheel; worse: in denial of unconscionable political truths.
Patterns of industry influence, within the political machine, stall innovation and hinder the progress of true health creation by putting profit ahead of prevention.
The public has become conditioned to existing in a broken food chain that remains in disrepair due to misguided farming subsidies, untested or otherwise questionable chemicals—many banned in other countries—present in the water we drink, the air we breathe, food we consume, and products we use. We Americans also live in an environment of stress run amok.
We have essentially created a pro-cancer environment that will not be ‘cured’ by current, effective therapies, or those in the drug pipeline.
Quite simply, and sadly, it is not an unalienable right for every U.S. citizen to have access to the building blocks of basic health, thus denying a fighting chance of avoiding the 50/50 odds that one will develop cancer in his or her lifetime.
Tragically, it’s a lack of prevention that has helped fuel our cancer epidemic, not a shortage of curious, courageous investigators. Or, for that matter, a lack of funding from NCI, or the pharmaceutical industry, to bring new drugs to market.
Scientists and oncologists are working against the rising tide of a population entrenched in this pro-cancer environment.
We need to employ steady diplomacy and political willpower to impact the trajectory of this prevalent and pernicious disease. This can be achieved through comprehensive approaches that go way beyond the government’s current definition of prevention.
Since decoding the human genome over a dozen years ago, we have made substantive progress in making whole genome tumor sequencing more available and affordable. We’ve created better assays, and increased our ability to target a number of cancer mutations.
A new vanguard is here, comprising targeted immunotherapies, effective vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, hormone therapies, and kinase inhibitors.
Many of these therapeutic approaches have less deleterious side effects than the indiscriminate chemo cocktail ‘all-cell-killers’ they are beginning to replace.
Making new therapies available, on a compassion basis to those without viable treatment options, is critical. Publishing research soon after a trial’s tabulation is imperative. Getting new therapies to market in a timely manner will save lives. But lifelong prevention—not getting cancer in the first place—will have the largest impact on numbers: human and economic.
New research shows that up to 85 percent of malignant disease may be prevented through lifestyle choices. Literature to support the core tenets of lifestyle to prevent cancer—physical activity, nutrition, stress reduction, restorative sleep—is clearly beyond refute.
A fresh initiative requires a sound strategy, and a budget that far exceeds the anemic portion of NCI funding now directed to so-called ‘prevention’ campaigns, mostly aimed at early detection.
From a purely economic standpoint, it costs less to prevent cancer than to cure it. From a purely medical standpoint, it is much easier to prevent cancer than to treat, track, or ‘cure’ it.
I understand your passion, driven by deep personal experience with your son, Beau. And, as you may surmise, I do not disagree that we have an incredible opportunity: we have to make a difference in how we collectively address the cancer epidemic.
Political energy can and must directly influence consumer education toward powerful lifestyle change, which will, in turn, have the greatest impact on this endemic issue.
It is my sincere hope that your commitment to solving this national crisis will become your everlasting legacy, built over many years of good work after you leave the White House.
The timing is prescient for a Cancer Prevention Moonshot. Will you lead the way?