THE WAR against cancer, launched by Richard Nixon in 1971, is increasingly regarded as a failure. Although the risk of dying from cancer has declined by 23% since 1991, deaths from cancer have risen relentlessly—even as medicine has made great progress in averting heart attacks and strokes. About 1.7m new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2016, and almost 600,000 will die. One of the reasons for this failure is that the “war” was based on a misconceived notion that cancer is one disease amenable to a single cure.
Today the fundamental science is better understood and cancer is seen to be many diseases, more closely connected by the molecular faults that drive them than the location in the body they are found. Can the science be advanced further? A better idea than lobbing billions at government research agencies in another broad-based onslaught might be something more focused, an attempt to answer some key questions on a set timeline. This approach is more like a moon shot.
It came as some surprise, then, that not one but two cancer moon shots were announced recently. On January 11th, a group calling itself the...Continue reading