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Asembia 2019

Cancer Moonshot Agenda Continues on With the Biden Cancer Initiative

Laura Joszt
During a session at Asembia’s 15th annual Specialty Pharmacy Summit, Greg Simon, president, Biden Cancer Initiative, outlined commitments that came out of the Cancer Moonshot, the work of the Biden Cancer Initiative, and ongoing challenges that patients with cancer face.
There are dangers in predicting the end of cancer by a certain date, so the Biden Cancer Initiative never did that. Instead, the Initiative talks about increasing the rate of progress against cancer and ways in which people and organizations can help, said Greg Simon, president, Biden Cancer Initiative.

Even though the current administration hasn’t been promoting the Cancer Moonshot, which was set up during the last year of the Obama administration, the work that started in 2016 has continued on both with agencies in the federal government that made commitments and through the Biden Cancer Initiative.

Simon is a cancer survivor himself, who got the call from Vice President Joe Biden’s office to run the Cancer Moonshot the same week he finished chemo for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The Cancer Moonshot was created by presidential memorandum by President Barack Obama, but it was partially born as a result of Biden’s own frustration from his experience trying to deal with his son’s illness at multiple medical centers.

“Go back to Biden’s experience—not being able to share data, hospitals have different standards for diagnosis and pathology, not knowing how to navigate the system, not being able to find a trial,” Simon said. “All of those things he experienced personally. I experienced some of them when I was being treated for leukemia. Most cancer patients experience all of these problems.”

When the Cancer Moonshot started, Simon walked into a room with 20 government agencies at the table ready to help, but they didn’t know what to do. He asked them all a simple question: Where do you touch the patient in the patient’s journey from avoiding cancer to detecting cancer early to treating cancer right to the patient’s survivorship?

He wanted to know how those agencies were involved with patients at the time and how they could help twice as many patients, twice as fast for half as much money. The Cancer Moonshot didn’t focus on money, he said. Instead, it was a call to action; it was getting commitments from organizations to help patients during their cancer journey.

By the time the Cancer Moonshot kicked off, there were only 9 months remaining in the Obama presidency, which didn’t seem like a lot of time, but it is for a patient with cancer, Simon explained. The 9 months for the Cancer Moonshot was roughly half the life his friend who was diagnosed with brain cancer had and was one-third of the time left for a person diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

“You can get a lot started in 9 months,” Simon said. “You don’t have to finish it, you just had to get it started.”

By the end of those 9 months, the Cancer Moonshot had more than 80 commitments. Bristol-Myers Squibb promised to make a $25 million contribution to cancer detection and survivorship programs. Uber would provide free rides to people going to cancer treatment. Airbnb will now offer free places for people to stay when they have to travel to get treatment.

The Cancer Moonshot went from “a government program to a movement,” Simon said, because people wanted to be a part of it and the Cancer Moonshot helped them figure out how.

“Some of these commitments changed the lives of patients, it got financial help for patients, it got care help for patients, it addressed inequities in care,” he said.

The agencies committed to a 5-year plan. So, even though the Cancer Moonshot was only during the last 9 months of the Obama presidency, and President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence declined to take over the Cancer Moonshot, the agenda continues on, Simon explained.

“Our whole business model is the convening power we had with the Bidens, and we still have, and the ability to get people to do the right thing or to shame them into doing the right thing,” he said.

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