Vice President Joseph Biden speaks at the Cancer Moonshot Summit at Howard University in Washington on June 29, 2016. (Image: AP)

A blue-ribbon panel commissioned by the Obama administration has released a report describing 10 transformative research strategies designed to increase the speed at which cancer research is conducted—but it’s not clear if US Congress will commit the necessary funds.

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The 28-member Blue Ribbon panel presented its report to the National Cancer Advisory Board earlier today. To come up with its recommendations, the committee organized several working groups involving some 150 experts, who focused on such topics as pediatric cancer, improved data sharing, and clinical trials.

In total, the panel made 10 recommendations which it believes represents the “most compelling” opportunities available to speed progress against the disease; the ultimate goal of the Cancer Moonshot initiative is to make “a decade’s worth of research progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in just five years,” and to “bring the most promising science and clinical developments to cancer patients in the near term.”

The 10 recommendations are as follows (a full description of each item can be found here, along with accompanying summary videos):

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  1. Establish a network for direct patient involvement
  2. Create a clinical trials network devoted exclusively to immunotherapy
  3. Develop ways to overcome cancer’s resistance to therapy
  4. Build a national cancer data ecosystem
  5. Intensify research on the major drivers of childhood cancers
  6. Minimize cancer treatment’s debilitating side effects
  7. Expand use of proven cancer prevention and early detection strategies
  8. Mine past patient data to predict future patient outcomes
  9. Develop a 3D cancer atlas
  10. Develop new cancer technologies

It’s a diversified strategy, one that recognizes the need to merge science, technology, advocacy, social science, and big data.

Vice President Joseph Biden, who lost a son to brain cancer more than a year ago, is leading this campaign, pledging, “I plan to do two things: increase resources—both private and public—to fight cancer, and break down silos and bring all the cancer fighters together—to work together, share information, and end cancer as we know it.”

Importantly, the recommendations stress the need to create a clinical trial network dedicated to immunotherapy—a revolutionary new line of research that leverages the body’s own immune system to to fight cancer. The proposal to increase testing for hereditary cancer syndromes is likewise prudent, as these conditions are known to increase risk for breast, colon, and other cancers.

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The proposals are appropriately ambitious given that cancer claims 600,000 American lives each year, but as the Washington Post makes clear, the recommendations come at an uncertain time:

Many of the ideas would require millions—if not hundreds of millions — of dollars in additional funding, but Congress has not yet approved any extra spending for the moonshot effort. And within the cancer community itself, federal officials are still struggling to overcome skepticism that the moonshot will result in breakthroughs against [the disease]....

And with the election just a few months away, time is ticking on the Obama administration to put these recommendations in action, lest it drop the ball on its promise to make a meaningful and lasting impact on the war against cancer.

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[National Cancer Institute via Washington Post]