Resolving the cancer problem requires two separate but equal initiatives

As we strive for a COVID-19 vaccine as well as an effective and all-reaching distribution plan, we should remember that all scientific and medical advances should be accompanied by a parallel initiative to make them available and affordable for all.

a person sitting at a table using a laptop: A doctor explains test results to patient

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A doctor explains test results to patient

There is no doubt that the upcoming Joe Biden administration will have its hands full when it takes over Jan. 20, 2021, with the COVID-19 pandemic and its health and economic repercussions as well as racial inequity issues, and the restoration of faith in our democracy.

And although it may not be at the very top of Biden’s to-do list, it is pretty likely that he will also eventually focus on his once-favored Cancer Moonshot Program, which was launched when then-President Obama announced at his final state-of-the-union address in January 2016 that then-Vice President Biden would lead the effort. A large part of Moonshot’s projected success was predicated on the White House’s ability to force collaboration across various government agencies.

Cancer was very personal to Biden, especially since his son Beau’s death from glioblastoma in 2015, and Moonshot’s initially stated goal was to “end cancer, which was soon modified to achieve 10 years of research progress within five years, a goal that was aspirational but still difficult to measure.

Toward the end of the Obama administration, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act in December 2016, authorizing $1.8 billion in funding for the renamed Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot over seven years, with funding appropriated each fiscal year over those seven years. The National Cancer Institute was responsible for dispensing the funds, based on scientific guidance from a Blue Ribbon Panel.

In June 2017 the independent non-profit Biden Cancer Initiative was established to create and implement programs and platforms to accelerate progress against cancer. Joe and Jill Biden were co-chairs of its board of directors until both resigned in April 2019 when the former vice president announced his intention to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

Then in July 2019, the Biden Cancer Initiative suddenly shuttered its operations without providing information regarding the transition of any of its assets to any other organizations willing to continue its mission.

Now under the incoming Biden administration, the Cancer Moonshot initiative will have another shot at realizing its scientific goals, but it does not address a separate but equal imperative to make the proceeds of that research available and affordable for all.

The Cancer Moonshot and the other important work coming out of the National Cancer Institute and its national cancer centers program are research-focused without any mandate to deal with the delivery of care to those who are underserved, but scientific and medical progress is just one part of the cancer equation since its effectiveness can only be fully realized when it can reach everyone.

Next year, the United States will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1971 National Cancer Act that President Nixon signed into law as part of his “War on Cancer.”

The advances in understanding, treating and preventing cancer over the past half-century have created a world where many now live instead of dying from cancer and the quality of that living has greatly improved.

But in a nation where health equity is yet to be realized and the best medical and cancer care is elusive for those without the guidance or resources to obtain them, it remains for the federal government to perhaps enact a parallel “HealthEquityShot” that will make it possible for all citizens to share the benefits that the nation’s investment in science has wrought.

Nancy G. Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen. She is currently co-founder of the Promise Fund of Florida and has also served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary, U.S. chief of protocol and as a Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control to the U.N.’s World Health Organization. Follow her on Twitter: @NancyGBrinker.

Eric T. Rosenthal writes about and develops forums for discussing cancer and health care issues and policy and is the founder of the National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers Public Affairs Network. Find him on Twitter: @etrosenthal

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