UA participates in 'Moonshot Summit' to speed cancer research

UA participates in 'Moonshot Summit' to speed cancer research
Joe Biden (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Joe Biden (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Doctors in southern Arizona dialed in to the first-ever White House Cancer Moonshot Summit.

Vice President Joe Biden hosted the main event Wednesday from Washington D.C.

The goal is to get researchers, doctors, advocates, drug companies and patients working together to speed up cancer research to find preventions and cures.

The Vice President called for doubling the progress against cancer in the next five years.

"Think of how many people you know who are saying, 'Doc, I just want to make it one more month to see my daughter get married. Doc, doc, if I can just, if I can just, if I can just make it, I can make it another four months, I'll be able to pay off the house and my wife will be OK when I go. Doc, doc all I want to do is see my daughter graduate.' These are real, real, real, real life things," Biden said.

President Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to head the Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

You may recall, the vice president's son, Beau, died of brain cancer about a year ago. More than 6,000 people took part in simultaneous summits across the country.

"Cancer can be cured in our lifetime," University of Arizona Cancer Center Director Dr. Andrew Kraft told those gathered in Tucson.

It was the opening salvo in this newly invigorated war on cancer.

The UA Cancer Center hosted the summit in Tucson where those gathered heard about the breakthroughs that are coming faster than ever before.

"15 years ago, I was told, they would've amputated my leg. So I'm very blessed to know that they didn't have to do that," said cancer survivor and summit participant Janet Kimble. "I would really like to enthuse people, show them that you can survive this."

UA Associate Professor of Medicine Dr. Amanda Baker said new therapies and therapy combinations are winning U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, seemingly every month.

She said immunotherapy "has come of age."

"It's using the body's own immune system to fight the cancer. And our body's very smart. When we give it the opportunity to fight," explained,  Baker said.

Doctors also are using targeted therapy or, what's called, precision medicine where the treatment is tailored to the individual patient's cancer. But so much more needs to be done.

"Time matters. Days matter. Minutes matter," Biden told the summit.

An estimated 11,540 people died of cancer in Arizona last year. It's estimated 32,440 Arizonans were diagnosed with cancer in 2015.

Nationally, an estimated 600,000 Americans will die of cancer this year and there will be more than 1.6 million new cases.

University of Arizona Cancer Center Director Emeritus Dr. David Alberts said that many deaths is like five 747 airplanes crashing every day.

He said we have become numb to it and that has to change.

Dr. Alberts said, if we applied what we know, we could prevent some 50 percent of cancers in this country. He said Americans can do that by watching their weight, exercising, drinking alcohol in moderation and by stopping smoking.

"If we could take care of tobacco smoking and so that our children don't start smoking that would take care of 90 percent of lung cancers that just would not happen," said UA Cancer Center Deputy Director Dr. Peter Lance.

Just as America challenged itself to put a man on the moon, and did it, this Cancer Moonshot has lofty goals.

"We want to learn from our successes. We want to get everybody's ideas together. We want to be more efficient in how scarce resources are deployed to move the whole process forward," said Dr. Lance. "To get as much information as possible into the hopper to give the scientists those areas that they should be focusing on and, above all else, share the information."

Summit participants said the Moonshot Initiative also is about getting the community involved, to take prevention to heart and to participate in clinical trials if they should become ill.

"One of the biggest things that moves cancer research forward is participation in clinical trials. And the more the community is aware of the centers that are working to advance cancer research and to improve new therapies, the more engagement we'll have in clinical trials," said Dr. Baker.

"Make sure that the maximum number of cancer patients, in fact, have access to the very best clinical trials. At the moment, five percent or fewer of cancer patients actually take part in clinical trials.  And we believe that we can greatly increase the number of cancer patients for whom appropriate clinical trials are available.That is going to give those patients the best chance of having their cancers cured and will also give us the best way possible to go forward and find out what does work and, unfortunately, what doesn't work," said Dr. Lance.

President Obama has proposed one billion dollars be allocated for the Moonshot Initiative, with the hope that Americans will see the need and back this effort to cure cancer.

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