Jill Biden at a cancer research facility with other officialsShare on Pinterest
First lady Jill Biden is among the White House officials involved in the expanded Cancer Moonshot program. Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images
  • The coordinator of the White House’s new Cancer Moonshot initiative tells Healthline the program has bold new goals and strategies.
  • Its chief targets are to accelerate cancer research and improve earlier cancer detection.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense are among the many agencies participating.

Six years ago, then-Vice President Joe Biden launched the Cancer Moonshot initiative with the mission of improving the rate of progress against cancer in the United States.

During the program’s launch, Biden announced several goals, including accelerating scientific discovery, improving the sharing of data, and working on earlier cancer detection.

Six years later, on February 2, 2022, President Joe Biden announced plans for an even bigger, broader Cancer Moonshot program that promises to “end cancer as we know it.”

“We will re-establish White House leadership with a White House Cancer Moonshot coordinator in the Executive Office of the President, to demonstrate the President and First Lady’s personal commitment to making progress and to leverage the whole-of-government approach and national response that the challenge of cancer demands,” Biden said.

That new White House Moonshot Coordinator, Danielle Carnival, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and former chief executive officer of the I AM ALS non-profit organization, spoke with Healthline this week to help explain where the new Cancer Moonshot is headed and what it means for everyone.

“The reignited Cancer Moonshot is focused on forging new partnerships, interagency programs, and collaborations, both public and private,” said Carnival, who’s been with the program since its inception.

“The president has set bold new goals and, to achieve them, we need to come at this disease in every way we can. We need all hands on deck,” she said.

The most ambitious new goal is to decrease the cancer death rate by 50 percent in the next 25 years, said Carnival.

A new Cancer Cabinet will be convened by the White House, she noted, that brings together departments and agencies and non-profits and more to address cancer on multiple fronts.

These include the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They also include the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Domestic Policy Council, Gender Policy Council, Office of the First Lady, Office of the Vice President, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Legislative Affairs, and the Office of Public Engagement.

“The formation of the Cancer Cabinet was key,” Carnival said. “This time around, the Cancer Moonshot is an even bigger umbrella. This time it is all about innovation and reaching more people.”

And that, Carnival noted, includes many under-served populations, from people of color to native Americans and others.

The big-picture goals of the Cancer Moonshot haven’t really changed, but they have expanded and progressed.

For example, when Biden introduced the Cancer Moonshot in 2016, one of his personal priorities was something called liquid biopsies, which at the time was a technology few people outside the lab knew about.

Biden believed in the technology because it was a noninvasive blood test that even in early trials was detecting cancer in its early stages.

“In the 2016 speech, then-Vice President Biden painted the picture of where we are headed,” Carnival said. “He was focused on early detection of cancer from liquid biopsies. And now, six years later, the President remains just as excited about the potential of that technology, which has already begun to make a difference.”

Most everyone agrees that this technology, which in some cases is already being used in the clinic, has enormous potential.

“The president is hopeful about the promise of early detection using these tests. The National Cancer Institute has announced that they are providing a platform for clinical trials,” Carnival said.

“There will be rigorous research on this. And we need to make sure that the healthcare system, including primary care physicians, are involved,” she added.

Another vital contributor to the reignited Moonshot is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“We agree that VA drives research, we know that it is the largest health system in the country, and we are using that resource,” Carnival said.

The agency, which has 171 medical centers and 1,112 outpatient sites of care of varying complexity, represents an opportunity to help move cancer science forward and help veterans heal, Carnival said.

Denis McDonough, Secretary of the VA, said in a conversation during a Cancer Moonshot: Goals Forum last week that the VA has embraced precision medicine and is all in with the reignited Cancer Moonshot.

He said he strongly supports further partnerships and getting the VA even more involved in clinical trials.

The VA, McDonough said, is pursuing a multi-center approach as they build more trials to test these cancer detection technologies.

“We have amazing longitudinal data that allows us to play a critical role in these clinical trials,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense reports that as part of the Moonshot, it will expand its signature clinical cancer research program known as APOLLO, or Applied Proteogenomics Organizational Learning and Outcomes network.

APOLLO, which launched in 2016, incorporates proteogenomics into patient care as a way of looking beyond the genome, and into the activity and expression of the proteins that a genome encodes.

This network, which currently includes 15 Department of Defense (DoD) and VA hospitals, is looking at lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer, and brain cancers, among others.

The program will also be expanding its clinical trial network to include every DoD hospital.