Last year, cancer killed an estimated 589,430 Americans. And despite recent advances in treatment, it stubbornly remains a leading cause of death. Can Vice President Joe Biden lead an American offensive that will vanquish the dreaded disease once and for all?
We hope so. And while we acknowledge the danger of buying into the “moonshot” symbolism of the initiative that President Barack Obama announced in his recent State of the Union address, we are also encouraged by the energy with which the administration is pursuing this initiative, sending Biden across the country to unite and support researchers and physicians seeking cures.
Admittedly, putting an American on the moon was a relatively straightforward challenge compared to curing cancer — which is actually a group of diseases and requires a personalized treatment for each patient. But when President John F. Kennedy focused the nation’s attention on the earth’s natural satellite, he was promising the unthinkable. We are similarly challenged here.
Nonetheless, where the strengths, talents, imagination, creativity and unbounded resources of our country are focused on an objective and brought to bear, there is hope. And if Biden, who just last year tragically lost a son to cancer, remains at “mission control” even after his term as vice president ends, there is the possibility that his clout and deal-making abilities may aid the search for and availability of treatment. And even if America doesn’t cure cancer “once and for all,” as Obama urged, maybe we can cure some cancers and manage others.
One way the vice president can lead the effort is by helping to secure much-needed funding for research and testing. He was influential in getting Congress to increase the National Institutes of Health cancer funding by $260 million this year. Keeping cancer research as a national funding priority is key to intensifying the effort.
So is breaking down barriers, otherwise known as eliminating silos, in the medical world. Biden has said that researchers who work on their own and don’t share information with other researchers are holding back progress. Perhaps he can help build incentives to make such cooperation and sharing a reality. In doing so, technological advances are likely to be an important component in such an effort. For example, cloud data storage could help scientists compare notes. Rural providers could have access to national centers and their test results. And knowledge could be spread to parts of the world that don’t have the resources to launch their own “moonshot” programs.
That’s the promise of this initiative, and we embrace it. And though the results will not yield a single dramatic “one small step for man” moment, they are likely to help bring something that will last even longer and touch more people.
We wish the effort and the vice president Godspeed.