On this World Cancer Day, the University of Colorado (CU) Cancer Center looks back to earlier this week when President Biden reignited his Cancer Moonshot initiative, setting ambitious goals to “reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years and improve the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer — and by doing this and more, end cancer as we know it today.”
“I am so excited that President Biden has announced his initiative to reduce the mortality from cancer by half,” says CU Cancer Center director Richard Schulick, MD, MBA. “I think this is a very high goal, but it is very reachable if we do all the right things.”
Biden’s confidence in setting these goals comes from the accomplishments of the past 25 years in the area of cancer research. We have seen the development of cancer vaccines and treatments that target specific mutations, advancements in immunotherapies, and the refinement and widespread use of diagnostic tools. Our cancer center members have dedicated their life’s work to many of these new developments.
“We need a multipronged approach to defeat cancer – from prevention, to early detection, to better therapies, and disease management," says James DeGregori, PhD, deputy director of the CU Cancer Center.
While the work of CU Cancer Center members has encompassed the goals of diagnosing cancer sooner, preventing cancer, targeting the right treatment to the right patient, addressing inequities, learning from our patients, and supporting those providing care for quite some time, it is refreshing and encouraging to know that our government is behind us in the fight.
According to the American Cancer Society, in 2022 there will be approximately 1.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 609,000 cancer deaths in the United States. Cancer Moonshot is exactly what we need for our war on cancer.
As the White House re-establishes the White House Cancer Moonshot coordinator, creates a Cancer Cabinet, and calls on the private sector, foundations, academic institutions, health care providers, and all Americans to take action, we stand at the ready to prevent and conquer cancer, together.
“We’re ready to show the world what’s possible here in Colorado," says CU Cancer Center Deputy Director Cathy Bradley, PhD.
The University of Colorado Cancer Center has leaders in many of President Biden’s focus areas for Cancer Moonshot. Examples include:
Addressing barriers to screening and prevention: The Colorado Cancer Screening Program at the CU Cancer Center helps patients — most of them low-income and many of them Spanish-speaking-preferred — through the process of getting colonoscopies or endoscopies, as well as any follow-up care they may need.
Growing diversity, equity, and inclusion in research: Patricia Ernst, PhD, professor of pediatrics and pharmacology, and Tin Tin Su, PhD, professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at the University of Colorado Boulder, are newly partnered as co-leaders of the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Molecular and Cellular Oncology (MCO) program. Among their goals in partnering with MCO-affiliated researchers is to continue growing the commitment to diversity and equity in research.
Exploring immunotherapy: CU Cancer Center member Yuwen Zhu, PhD, is researching ways to normalize tumor vasculature — meaning the tumor’s network of blood vessels — improving pathways to the tumor so drugs and the body’s immune killer cells can better reach and attack the disease.
Advancing CAR T-cell therapy: CU Cancer Center members including Eduardo Davila, PhD; Terry Fry, MD; Breelyn Wilky, MD; Michael Verneris, MD, and Eric Kohler, MD, PhD, are involved in clinical trials studying the effectiveness of new forms of CAR T-cell therapy on different types of cancers in children and adults.
Supporting survivors: Jamie Studts, PhD, co-leader of the Cancer Prevention & Control Program at the CU Cancer Center, has developed an intervention to help support lung cancer survivors through their survivorship journey.
Supporting caregivers: CU Cancer Center deputy director Cathy Bradley, PhD, is leading a study to help spouses of cancer patients talk to their employers about health insurance, paid leave, and more.
Addressing inequities: In April, CU Cancer Center member Chris Lieu, MD, and two other researchers published an editorial in Nature Reviews Cancer urging physicians to study the biological causes of early-onset colorectal cancer disparities while keeping in mind how social determinants of health — everything from health care access and systemic inequities to poverty and chronic stress — contribute to the problem.