Please Aim The ‘Cancer Moonshot’ At The Stars

December 8, 2016
By Nancy G. Brinker and Eric T. Rosenthal
Originally published in The Hill

A suggestion for President-elect Trump while he’s draining the Washington swamp: Don’t always throw out the baby with the swamp water.

He’s already indicated that he’s willing to do that with the Affordable Care Act, since he now seems open to retaining some of its components, such as insurance for those with preexisting health conditions and expanded coverage for some young adults under their parents’ policies.
Another area he should review carefully — and critically — is the future of President Obama’s “Cancer Moonshot” initiative, which launched with highly political overtones at January’s State of the Union address and has been fraught with partisan overtones ever since, including the assumption that Vice President Joe Biden’s leadership would continue after he leaves office.

But unfortunately, neither Biden’s role nor the initiative itself has ever been secure because of its partisan birth and less-than-scientific momentum of bringing aboard those with political ties and some vested interests, not including those who might truly have helped change the landscape of cancer research and treatment.

During the course of this past year, in this publication and others, the authors have tried to shed a little more light on both the initiative and its process, and a number of efforts to ask questions of officials have not been successful.

One of our main concerns is the failure to secure bipartisan support at the outset instead of jumpstarting the process as a overstated promise that America would alone be “the country that cures cancer once and for all” — a nationalistic statement that was quietly toned down as more realistic voices reminded the administration that cancer is a global issue and that scientific and clinical expertise knows no borders.

Promises were made and, even if progress was forthcoming, it was always limited by the absence of congressional funding, which was akin to putting the cart before the horse.

So, Mr. President-elect, here are a few of our suggestions regarding Moonshot:

  • Weigh the value of important public health initiatives, which are not just limited to cancer.
  • Take seriously the permanent appointment of a director of the National Cancer Institute who can help lead the nation’s cancer research program.
  • Determine objectively, realistically, and meaningfully what can be done in the best interests of our country’s and the world’s health.
  • Select the most qualified individuals regardless of their party affiliation or friends and allies, encourage collaborations, and hold everyone involved accountable to produce a realistic road map to productive scientific, medical and prevention research leading to effective treatments and interventions.
  • Show all those who have backed Moonshot, and are now concerned about its future because of the election results, that your interests in health transcends those of politics.
  • And, please, please, appeal to the good sense and responsible stewardship of members from both sides of the aisle in both houses of Congress to do the right thing, acting in the best interests of cancer care in this country and around the world.


Nancy G. Brinker founded Susan G. Komen in 1982 on a promise she made to her sister, Susan G. Komen, who died in 1980 at the age of 36, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer. In 2010, Brinker released her New York Times best-selling memoir “Promise Me.” Brinker has received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Obama in 2009.

Eric T. Rosenthal, special correspondent with MedPage Today and editor-at-large with Onco’Zine.