Investment in the National Cancer Moonshot - Hit or Miss?

Experts and biological researchers aren’t completely convinced with the president's cancer moonshot initiative and the released budget.

During the recently announced 2016 federal budget, President Barack Obama announced an additional investment of $1 billion toward his “moonshot” in search of a cure for cancer. The goal is to achieve 10 years’ worth of advances in only 5 years. However, many experts and researchers have expressed dissatisfaction with the budget, as they believe it will drive up costs for seniors with cancer and taxpayers.

During his 2016 State of the Union Address, Obama called on Vice President Biden to lead a new, national moonshot initiative to find a permanent cure to cancer. According to projections, more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed and cancer will kill an estimated 600,000 Americans in 2016.

As part of the mission to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer, the administration has asked for $755 million for cancer-related research in its budget for the 2017 fiscal year. The initiative will also help oversee $195 million in new funding provided to the National Institutes of Health for the current fiscal year.

Within HHS, these investments will support cutting-edge research opportunities such as:

  • Prevention and cancer vaccine development
  • Screening and early detection of cancer
  • Cancer immunotherapy and combination therapy
  • Analysis of genetic changes in cancer cells and surrounding cells
  • Enhanced data sharing between institutions

“The administration will do everything it can to support research and enable progress while calling on the families, researchers, and physicians across the country to join this effort and confront this challenge,” according to the statement from White House.

Budget Concerns and Misguided Cuts?

Experts and biological researchers aren’t completely convinced with the moonshot. Some believe that in today’s costly world of biological research, this might be just another futile attempt because the administration has neither the time nor the money to come close to achieving its goal in an area in which major advances often take a decade and many billions of dollars to achieve.

Getting down to specifics, the federal budget contains harmful cuts to Medicare payments for cancer drugs, which, if implemented, would further consolidate cancer care into the more expensive hospital setting, according to researchers at Community Oncology Alliance (COA).

Medicare currently pays what is known as “Average Sales Price” (ASP) plus 6% to cover the costs of storage, inventory, and preparation required to deliver complex and sometimes toxic drugs. The budget would slash payment by half to ASP plus 3%, as a cost savings measure.

“These cuts to cancer care increase costs to patients and handicap community cancer practices that are the primary participants in vital clinical trials,” said Bruce Gould, MD, president of COA. “The president calls for a moonshot on cancer but his budget, with misguided cuts and insufficient research funding, scuttles the rocket before it even gets to the launch pad.”