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Moffitt, Federal government push for cancer cure

In President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address, he put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of the new national initiative to find a cure for cancer, which he made a focus of his efforts last year when he called on a search for the cure, referring to it as a “moonshot.”

“For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all,” Obama said in his address.

To the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, this is positive news, Federal Legislative Affairs Director John DeMuro said.

“We are so heartened that the Vice President has issued a call for nationwide collaboration especially around creating networks of data for molecular profiling to beat cancer, because it’s … a goal we’ve been working towards for years and we’re eager to share the progress we’ve made,” DeMuro said.

Currently, cancer is a prevalent problem at the national and global scale.

“Nearly 14.5 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive on January 1, 2014,” the ACS said in its recent report on cancer facts and figures. “Some of these individuals were diagnosed recently and undergoing treatment, while most were diagnosed many years ago with no current evidence of cancer.”

In its report on cancer facts and figures, the ACS estimated that about 1,685,210 new cancer cases were expected to be diagnosed in 2016. However, cancer treatments are not evenly accessible to everyone.

“Quality of cancer care can significantly affect the likelihood of survival and the quality of life during and after cancer treatment,” the American Cancer Society (ACS) said in its most recent report on cancer treatment and survivorship. “However, state-of-the art cancer treatments are neither equitably accessible nor available across all segments of the population.” 

In addition to this, cancer research faces challenges when it comes to finances and a lack of uniformity in how data is reported, DeMuro said.

“One of the things that could be done at the federal level, that we’re very pleased that Vice President Biden seems to be interested in, is they could institute uniform standards for collecting health information across all health care providers inclusive of the way they record cancer staging and cancer occurrence and the way they track patients,” DeMuro said. “If it’s done with the same standards … then that would lend itself to the collection of data that is uniform.”

Moffitt has been in communication with Biden and Obama’s staffs about how Moffitt has approached such matters over the past 10 years and Moffitt hopes to influence the conversation in a positive way, DeMuro said. Moffitt doesn’t know when policies will be implemented or what these policies will be, DeMuro said, but it are excited to see this all unfold. There appear to be a sense of urgency, DeMuro said.

“What we know for sure is that when a leader of Vice President Biden’s stature and President Obama’s stature make such a bold commitment and focuses so much attention on an issue like this, most folks in the cancer community believe that this will lead to more resources being focused in this area,” DeMuro said. “… If you or a family member is a cancer patient waiting for a breakthrough drug to come to market for a disease that you have, that you’re having a hard time with, this type of change can’t come soon enough.”

Biden’s plan has two main elements. The first is to increase the public and private resources for fighting cancer. The second is to “break down silos” and bring all of those who are fighting cancer together, as he wrote in a blog post on the matter.

“And the goal of this initiative is simple — to double the rate of progress,” Biden wrote in his blog post. “To make a decade worth of advances in five years.”

Biden said in his blog post that the science is ready, mentioning cancer immunotherapy, genomics and combination therapies. Moffitt has 10 years of data collection and progress DeMuro said it is eager to share. The Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN), a collaboration Moffitt is a part of, provides partners access to data from over 100,000 consenting patients, according to the ORIEN website.

The new initiative provides an enormous boost to what Moffitt is doing right now, DeMuro said, as it shares the same vision as Moffitt, with a focus on transforming cancer care through partnerships. Contributing to cancer prevention and finding a cure is Moffitt’s mission, according to their mission statement.

“Today, cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide. And that’s only expected to increase in the coming decades — unless we make more progress today,” Biden wrote. “I know we can.”