Soon-Shiong Launches Moonshot Cancer Project In Conjunction With President’s SOTU Address


During the President’s final State of the Union Address, he announced a new moonshot project to cure cancer that was compared with the effort to put a man on the moon. Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his own son to brain cancer in 2015, was tasked with spearheading the initiative. In a piece published just after the SOTU, Biden painted a broad plan with little detail for how he would go about eradicating cancer – the leading cause of death worldwide. In his plan, he briefly mentions that “immunotherapy, genomics, and combination therapies” are the key emerging fields that would be counted on to deliver the groundbreaking results promised in the speech.

Just prior to the speech, a group of private industry heavyweights launched their own program, called “Cancer Moonshot 2020,” led by healthcare billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong and operating under an organization called the National Immunotherapy Coalition. Biden’s relationship with Soon-Shiong started when his son was still battling cancer. Desperate for any treatment that might help his son, Biden reached out to Soon-Shiong to learn more about what was happening in cancer research and what could be done to hasten critical discoveries. Though Biden’s son did pass away in May, those early discussions between Biden and Soon-Shiong led to both the President’s SOTU declaration and the formation of Cancer Moonshot 2020.

While Biden was light on details in his explanation, Soon-Shiong has been more forthcoming about how cancer will be targeted, and which organizations will be involved. Cancer Moonshot 2020’s core objective is to use genetic sequencing to create treatment plans that are able to combat the cancer, but that limits the damage done to the immune system in the process. The team says that to accomplish this, each tumor must be individually sequenced to understand which treatments will be effective at combating it, and which won’t. Researchers are also shifting their attention to immunotherapy treatment options. Immunotherapy is an approach to cancer treatment in which the body’s own immune system is used to attack cancer, whether by bolstering the immune system overall, or by using engineered antibodies to attack the cancer through the immune system. The National Immunotherapy Coalition has promised to develop and test immunotherapy protocols for up to 20 tumor types in the next five years. Twenty-thousand patients will be recruited and will have combination treatment plans developed that include immunotherapy, low-dose chemotherapy, low-dose radiotherapy, and surgical intervention.

The team behind this research effort will be pharmaceutical companies Celgene and Amgen, biotechnology firms including NantWorks, NantKwest, Etubics, Altor Bioscience, and Precision Biologics; and cancer research institutions including Massachusetts General Hospital, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Tufts Medical Center, and University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.

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