A “Moonshot,” Immunotherapy, and Progress on Cancer Treatment

On February 4, the world comes together in the fight against cancer with World Cancer Day, a global event aimed at savings millions by raising awareness and education of the disease, while pressing government to take action.

In the United States, 2016 kicked off with President Obama announcing that during his last year in office, Vice President Joe Biden would be heading up a cancer “moonshot” initiative. The cause is personal for the vice president, who lost his son, Beau Biden, to brain cancer in May 2015.

In a memorandum, the president pointed out that while cancer is already a leading cause of death, cancer incidence is only expected to increase in the coming decades. The moonshot initiative aims to accelerate progress toward prevention, treatment, and, eventually, a cure for cancer.

Part of the initiative is that the FDA would speed approvals of promising drug combinations. Other ideas for the moonshot: immunotherapy and increased access to clinical trials.

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses the body’s natural defenses to fight the disease by targeting the immune system. Immuno-oncology drugs are promising and have generated impressive outcomes. The American Society of Clinical Oncology recently announced immunotherapy as the clinical cancer advance of the year.

Research in 2015 found that immunotherapies improve outcomes with reduced adverse effects for a number of cancers, including difficult-to-treat cancers and glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer.

This is not the first time the Obama administration has put the spotlight on cancer. Last year, during his State of the Union speech, the president announced his precision medicine initiative. Precision medicine is a type of customized healthcare that takes into account genes, environment and lifestyle.

Precision medicine has become important in treating cancer. Now when doctors attack the disease, they are often armed with knowledge about molecular and genetic makeup. The foundation of precision medicine is targeted therapy, which took off in the 1990s and is currently the focus of much cancer development.

Although there is still a long way to go before we find a cure for cancer, it is clear that the pace of cancer innovation has picked up speed and much progress has been made in the last decade.