Close to a year ago, President Obama was giving his final State of the Union address. In this address, he announced that Vice President Joe Biden would be leading an initiative to cure cancer. “For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save...let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.” exclaimed President Obama.
This was a very bold statement; one that also strikes very close to home for VP Biden. In May 2015 he lost his son, Beau Biden, to brain cancer. With this personal understanding of how traumatic cancer can be, Biden head lead the way for the last year to make sure the Cancer Moonshot is an initiative that truly changes the way we view and deal with cancer.
So what has actually changed over the last year? What is the outlook going forward? How are those battling rare cancers being affected?
The end goal of the Cancer Moonshot is to cure cancer; however, that cannot be done unless we first find ways to treat cancer in those currently fighting their disease. One push has been in the field of immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is, essentially, a method of treatment using one's own immune system to work smarter and harder to combat disease. There are a variety of different immunotherapy treatment types.
One type of immunotherapy treatment that has made serious strides in 2016 has been monoclonal antibody drugs. Keytruda (generic name pemrolizumab), is one in particular that has been used to treat a variety of different types of cancer. It is an anti-PD1 or anti-PD-L1 that is considered a targeted therapy. Keytruda targets specific sites or proteins, within cancer cells. Typically, this type of treatment can kill cancer cells, while causing minimal damage to normal cells. This is a huge advantage over traditional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, where normal cells in the body can be killed during treatment.
Keytruda has been FDA-approved to treat a variety of different cancers, and continues to be used in clinical trials for rare cancers like mesothelioma. In October 2015 it was FDA approved to treat non-small cell lung cancer. Just over a year later, in October 2016, the FDA approved Keytruda as the first-line treatment of certain patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. This means that it could be offered as an initial treatment for somebody diagnosed with that type of cancer. In the past, traditional treatments were always suggested as first-line treatments.
It just goes to show that the advancements being made are taking our nation to a whole new level in terms of treatment. Even in cases where immunotherapy is not offered as a first-line treatment, it can help in combination with traditional treatments like chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to best impact the patient.
Prevention is another huge focus for the Cancer Moonshot. One type of cancer in particular that is being impacted by this initiative is lung cancer, the second most common cancer in the United States. Most commonly caused by cigarette smoke, lung cancer can also be caused by exposure to toxins like radon and asbestos. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added asbestos to the list of 10 high-risk chemicals to be evaluated under a landmark federal chemical safety law enacted earlier this year.
Another focus in terms of prevention has included the effort to promote the use of the Human Papillomavirus (HPA) vaccine. HPA can lead to cervical cancer. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has agreed to stand by the National HPV efforts for the next five years, in hopes of getting more young women vaccinated for this disease.
The Future of the Cancer Moonshot
While there will be hurdles in place, like funding, data and politics, the Cancer Moonshot seems to be in a place set up for success. Regardless of barriers, this initiative gives hope to the direction that America is moving in… towards a cancer-free world!