When President Obama’s White House Task Force meets for the first time this week, it faces a lofty charge: “Let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.” His proposed Cancer Moonshot 2020 initiative will provide much needed funding for research, will encourage collaboration between industry and academia, and will undoubtedly lead to important advances in our understanding of cancer and how to treat it.
Although this initiative is noble and well intentioned, calling for a “cure for cancer” oversimplifies the challenge and is based on an outdated understanding of the disease.
The public needs to understand that cancer is not one disease; it’s hundreds of different diseases, and it’s more complex than anyone imagined back in 1971 when President Nixon first declared war on cancer. Those involved in cancer research know that conquering cancer, in all its varied forms, is truly a global endeavor that will require a sustained commitment for decades to come. While a challenge to be the “country that cures cancer” stirs our patriotic spirit and conviction that American biomedical know-how can render cancer irrelevant in our lifetime, the reality is that meaningful progress will require international collaboration.
Are we, as a nation, prepared to take on that challenge and lead such a charge? The President has taken the first step, appointing Vice President Joe Biden to lead the White House Task Force. But now the difficult work begins. Can we balance competing priorities and sustain both our political will and financial commitment for the many years that such an effort will undoubtedly take? Continue reading