President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, at Rice University, Houston, Texas
The NASA space program that landed the first human beings successfully on the moon still serves as an inspiration for humanity today. It is with this history in our hearts that America endeavors to reach for the stars and achieve a new “moon-landing” for the current generation.
The race to cure cancer has been equated with the same level of difficulty as the lunar landing of 1969. A challenge of this magnitude has been yet unseen in the 21st century, making the goal to cure cancer a defining aspect of current generations. A goal that is so lofty, many think it impossible.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 600,920 people in the United States will die from cancer this year, and cancer overall is the second highest cause of death in United States. The National Cancer Institute estimated that there would be over a million new diagnosed cases of cancer in 2016. These statistics only serve to underscore what we collectively already know: that cancer impacts a vast portion of our population.
In order to meet this challenge of the 21st century, the Cancer Moonshot initiative was established.
What is the Cancer Moonshot Initiative?
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama announced during the State of the Union address that Joe Biden would lead a White House backed initiative find a cure for cancer. The federal government announced a $1 billion investment in this program, but the heart of the progress lies in the collaboration that is enhanced between the public and private sector. Improved lines of communication through the Cancer Taskforce and increased access to data will hopefully bolster cancer research and allow for significant advancements that will leave patients with better quality of life and overall prognoses.
What is immunotherapy?
The Moonshot initiative explores a variety of preventative measures and treatments, including cancer vaccines and methods of early detection. One incredibly promising research area is immunotherapy, which uses the body’s existing defense system to eliminate cancerous cells.
Immunotherapy has already been successful for several types of cancer, and various drugs are still being tested for their effectiveness. For example, a drug known as Keytruda has already been approved for melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. In just the last few months several other cancers like Hodgkin Lymphoma were added to the list, which has grown now to seven different types of cancer that can all be treated with a single drug. Currently Keytruda is showing promise in clinical trials for combating mesothelioma, which can form in the linings that surround the lungs or abdomen. There is also an ongoing Keytruda clinical trial for patients with a specific type of prostate cancer.
Keytruda is only one example of the successes of immunotherapy, but is evidence of why this form of treatment is a major focus of the Cancer Moonshot.
What does this mean for patients and loved ones?
Many forms of cancer have grim prognoses; patients might given only months to live after diagnosis. Of the men suffering from prostate cancer almost 100% have at least a five year survival rate. However, if the cancerous cells have spread beyond the prostate, the survival rate decreases significantly. This emphasizes why exploring the benefits of immunotherapy for prostate cancer patients is so valuable.
All forms of cancer can be devastating, and innovative treatments like immunotherapy have the opportunity to make a significant impact. Statistics can be harsh, but immunotherapy can offer solace even beyond improved physical health. Immunotherapy allows patients and their loved ones to have hope.
The lunar landing of the 21st century is upon us, and ZERO and other major institutions are not backing down from the challenge. The Moonshot strives to cut through red-tape, improve collaboration between researchers, and achieve a decade’s worth of advancements in only five years. This of course is incredibly exciting news for the scientific community and the general public alike.
This piece is brought to you through a collaboration with the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center, an organization that works to inform cancer patients and caregivers about new developments in treatment and raise awareness about cancer prevention. Advancements in medicine like immunotherapy inspire the hope of one day eliminating cancer and can bring the entire community together in solidarity.