Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

The Best—and Worst—Things About Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot

The government’s latest plans to beat cancer range from inspiring to highly questionable.

Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot is supposed to double the pace of progress in preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer. Some of it is inspired; other parts are less exceptional or unlikely to succeed.

We’ve known for a little while the basic tenets of Biden’s plan: an aggressive push for sequencing tumor DNA, widespread sharing of data, and leveraging the two to provide precision treatments for patients. But on Monday Biden delivered a full report to explain how it will all work in practice. Its five core goals—from encouraging new scientific breakthroughs to improving patient access and care—are far-reaching but often vague.

So we’ve taken a closer look, and found are some promising ideas—as well as a few that should be viewed with skepticism.

A new Blood Profiling Atlas Pilot is an inspiring attempt to create the first large and open database of results from so-called liquid biopsies—a blood test that’s used to identify cancer DNA from just a few drops of blood. Data will initially come from 13 different ongoing studies, and the whole thing will be curated by University of Chicago and Seven Bridges. It’s hoped that by amassing enough data, simple blood tests could be used to identify nascent cancers (the technique has already been used successfully to help determine if tumors are likely to return).

Joe Biden and Barack Obama discuss the Cancer Moonshot Report.

Elsewhere, NASA has announced that it will work with the National Cancer Institute to investigate the biological effects of particle beam radiotherapy—a new, better-targeted version of conventional radiotherapy. Proton therapy has already begun to prove popular in the U.S. and has recently been heavily adopted in China, though studies into its efficacy and side effects are limited. The space agency will assess for which cancers the costly facilities required for the treatment are justifiable.

Uber and Lyft have also announced that they’ll expand current trials providing affordable transportation for cancer patients (currently a quarter of patients miss or reschedule their appointments due to transportation troubles). Lyft will expand its Boston trial to every city it currently operates in by 2020, and Uber will invest $5 million to improve its health-care-related and non-emergency medical transportation. This, of course, will all become more interesting when taxis go autonomous—even if that is a little ways off.

Some goals deserve a little more skepticism than the report suggests. In particular, the ambition to “expand the implementation of mobile devices and wearable technologies for cancer diagnosis” could be accused of overreaching. While certainly on-trend as a theme, many current wearables aren’t yet reliable enough for health-care applications.

That may change at some point: Alphabet’s health-care spin-off Verily is developing a device which is reported to measure cardiac activity, amongst other things. But for now the ambition to “detect microscopic cellular changes” and map tissue oxygenation seems overly optimistic.

Still, at least it is ambitious—a fine quality for something branded as a moonshot.

(Read more: Report of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, “The Long Road to Obama’s Cancer Moonshot,” “The Rocket Fuel for Biden’s 'Cancer Moonshot'? Big Data,” “I Saw Alphabet’s Health Watch,” “Liquid Biopsy”)

The latest Insider Conversation is live! Listen to the story behind the story.

Subscribe today
Already a Premium subscriber? Log in.
Joe Biden and Barack Obama discuss the Cancer Moonshot Report.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.