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‘Cancer Moonshot’ holds the promise of better outcomes

When it comes to fighting cancer, it is wholly appropriate to pull out all the stops. The national effort was dubbed by President Obama in his final State of the Union speech in January as the “Cancer Moonshot.”

The White House has called for nearly $1 billion in additional funding, $195 million initially for the National Institutes of Health and $755 million in fiscal 2017 for the NIH and Food and Drug Administration.

Experts may talk about unrealistic expectations, but this national fight against cancer is worth the resources. It should draw bipartisan support now and beyond the current president’s tenure.

Few people are fortunate enough not to have been touched by cancer or know someone who was. The second-leading cause of death strikes at the heart of countless families. It is an elusive enemy but there have been strides, and more is possible with this presidential initiative.

Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his son Beau, 46, to brain cancer last year, is the right person to lead this effort. He will have the help of many partners, including Roswell Park Cancer Institute, which played host to a regional moonshot summit here last week.

Candace S. Johnson, president and CEO of Roswell Park, attended the national conference at Howard University in Washington, D.C., that coincided with the regional summits. The moonshot has set an attainable goal: starting a national conversation on best practices in improving the prevention and detection of cancer, while increasing the speed of research to find cures.

Roswell Park and other cancer institutions would rather be out of business. The moonshot, Obama said, is a step toward making America “the country that cures cancer once and for all.”

Biden’s federal task force will make recommendations before the end of the year. Part of the work involves education. Most people know that early detection is one of the keys to survival, as is state-of-the-art treatment. But more people need better access to detection and treatment.

The task force will address these and other issues, including reducing unnecessary regulatory barriers and “ensuring optimal investment of federal resources,” as noted in an article by News medical reporter Henry L. Davis.

Johnson’s advice, as she told The News, involves an approach that “balances greater investment in basic science research and clinical trials, with more focus on preventing cancer.” She also raised another side of the accessibility issue. She wants the task force to address the concerns among cancer centers about health insurers cutting them from networks, potentially denying patients their services.

The goal of curing cancer seems as elusive as ever. After all, President Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer in 1971, and still more than 500,000 people die from the disease each year in the United States. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. The potential benefits of the Cancer Moonshot are too sweeping for Congress to stand in the way.