Federal funding for a cancer moonshot is not a terrible idea

Vice President Joe Biden will lead President Obama's cancer moonshot initiative.

Vice President Joe Biden will lead President Obama’s cancer moonshot initiative.

Nearly halfway through his prepared remarks for his 2016 State of the Union address to Congress, President Obama announced a new national effort to eliminate the life-threatening conditions of abnormally growing cells, which are collectively known as cancer. In charge of this new cancer moonshot, as the President puts it, is Vice President Joe Biden. Vice President Biden already recently worked to secure about $264 million in funding for the National Cancer Institute in a Congressional spending bill passed in December. This mission to defeat cancer will no doubt be a labor of love and deep commitment for the Vice President given that his son Beau Biden lost his battle with brain cancer in May 2016.

The U.S. government already spends about $5 billion each year on funding research related to treating and curing cancer, but Obama’s recent remarks seem to indicate that this committed funding level will increase in the coming months. Such an increased level of commitment to eradicate what is truly a terribly disease should be roundly applauded by the left, the right and everyone in between. Surprisingly, this new cancer research initiative has not been well received by every science and tech publication, which has printed an opinion on the matter. For instance, an article published by online tech publication Ars Technica argued that funding a new cancer moonshot devoted to cancer is “a terrible idea,” citing issues like the money already being invested by the government and past government-funded failures devoted to curing cancer.

Over the years it has not been uncommon for the pages of IPWatchdog.com to disagree with Ars Technica. The views expressed on matters of patent policy by Ars Technica generally do little more than parrot the desires and wishes of the Silicon Valley elite companies that want to dismantle the patent system for their own advantage. Ars Technica has largely ignored the vital role innovators and patents have played in the American economy. But to read Ars Technica say it is a terrible idea to devote increased funding in order to eradicate cancer is astonishing on many levels.


I have to ask the author of this Ars Technica article, Jonathan Gitlin, have you ever held anyone you loved as they lay dying of cancer? I have. In May 2013, I lost my best friend in this world to this horrible disease— my mother. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her, that I don’t wish for one more conversation or just a little more time. So for anyone to call this “a terrible idea” is nothing short of cruel, and frankly incredibly stupid. The lack of empathy is bewildering. The Ars Technica article is insulting, and wrong, on so many levels.

Gitlin rationalizes that we do not need any more money for cancer because it is no longer the leading killer in the United States. He writes:

Cancer isn’t even the leading cause of death in US! Almost twice as many die each year from heart disease, stroke, or lung disease, yet the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute gets $2 billion a year less than NCI.

He further explains that great strides have been made with respect to treatments and cures, which is true. Of course, it is also true that people are dying and they are dying horrible deaths. With the victories and advances that have been made over the last generation it is no longer fanciful to dream of a day when cancer can become eradicated. So why is it a terrible idea to devote more resources on a so-called cancer moonshot to attempt to once and for all put an end to this scourge?

Gitlin, attempting to seem reasonable, acknowledges what he must, that lofty scientific goals have lead to truly great things. He writes:

Don’t get me wrong. Done correctly, history shows that lofty scientific and engineering challenges can work. The actual moonshot for example, or the Human Genome Project. Both of those had one thing in common: a clear and well-defined goal at the beginning. “Before 1970, fly someone to the Moon and return them safely.” “Sequence the entire human genome.”

Nebulous concepts like “end all cancer” get good applause—curing all cancers is right up there with sunshine and puppies.

Gitlin, a former policy worker at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and current automotive editor for Ars Technica, has an interesting idea about what is a clear, well-defined goal. Save for a minute why Ars Technica has an automotive editor writing about cancer research and funding of research, but he writes in a rather condescending way, and without any explanation as if it is self evident, that the statement “fly someone to the moon by 1970” is clear but “cure cancer” is somehow unclear. So self assured in his ignorance is he that he feels comfortable mocking President Obama by basically saying the President might as well be blowing sunshine. Remarkably condescending, remarkably ignorant, remarkably wrong.

Gitlin must also check his history. When President Kennedy announced that he wanted a man on the moon by the end of the decade there were little, if any, specifics. The goal of putting a man on the moon lead to numerous scientific challenges and countless hurdles that could never have been imagined, all of which were overcome. There was no grand outline at the time for the accomplishments made toward the lunar landing by Project Gemini, Project Mercury and Project Apollo. But there was a clear mandate that America had to beat the USSR in this area of technology. See A NASA Journey to Nowhere.

To better critique what President Obama is trying to do with this new cancer initiative, maybe it is best for us to start with the language of his commitment to increasing research funds, specifically his use of that word ‘moonshot.’ Moonshot essentially means, “the launching of a spacecraft to the moon,” but the word itself harkens back to one of the prouder eras of American research and development. On May 25th, 1961, then-President John F. Kennedy gave a speech to the joint houses of Congress in which he announced that the United States should commit itself to landing a man on the moon within the decade. In that speech, Kennedy indicated that this would take a widespread effort: “In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.” This initiative to put a man on the moon would be echoed in other Kennedy speeches, including his 1962 State of the Union, where he said that the objective of putting a man on the moon was to “develop in a new frontier of science, commerce and cooperation, the position of the United States and the Free World.” It’s important to note that Kennedy’s push to put a man on the moon was largely spurred by the Soviet Union beating America to space with Yuri Gagarin’s spacewalk in April 1961.

Although he was perhaps a bit more forthcoming with the amount to be spent on space exploration, President Kennedy did not give America much more than a deadline to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Research sponsored by the U.S. government in the pursuit of a lunar landing led to an incredible array of scientific developments in flame-retardant fabrics, microalgae nutritional supplements and safe drinking water has absolutely made life better for humans here on Earth, all of which were unintended payoffs of space exploration research. The Mars mission, which will have to figure out how to keep humans alive in some of the harshest conditions they’ve experienced, will undoubtedly do the same.

So what does space travel have to do with cancer research? For one, the accomplishment of either requires the pursuit of a scientific unknown. We didn’t know how to put a man on the moon in 1961, but we knew that we had to beat the Soviets there. In a somewhat similar way, we know that the answer to ending the threat of more than 100 types of cancer from which humans can suffer will take a complex solution. Much like making it to the surface of the moon, we know that we have to solve this problem. The difference, however, is thanks to decades of cancer research we will not be starting this race flat footed. Many cancers have extremely high cure rates if they are detected early, and even some Stage IV cancers can be beaten. Every day advances are made, and it is no longer crazy to think that at some point during our lifetime we could see headlines proclaim that cancer has been defeated.

This type of massive spending initiative in order to confront a major problem affecting our world is not without precedent. Former President George W. Bush increased U.S. aid to Africa by 640 percent during his administration in an effort to address public health issues, contributing more than $5 billion per year to the continent, more than any previous U.S. president. As a result, America earned a spot in the hearts of many citizens from that continent, according to research from the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Solving one of the world’s greatest diseases would similarly go a long way in improving America’s stature in the larger world around it, as well as improving the lives of virtually everyone. Cancer touches us all, whether individually or by and through those that we love. How could it ever be a terrible thing to invest to stop such a terrible disease?

There’s no reason to decry a cancer moonshot that is dedicated to preventing one of the cruelest diseases known to man. It would be right to suggest that the government apply its funding in a strategic manner and not spend recklessly. But that’s another area where devoting extra resources to curing cancer makes sense: unlike space exploration, which essentially created a new industry, there’s already a healthy amount of American research devoted to cancer, as even Gitlin himself notes.

This new initiative in funding cancer research also gives us an opportunity to laud the effects of legislation, which, for 35 years, has enabled academic research in medicine and other fields to be commercially developed for consumers. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, as many readers are likely aware, established a legal path by which federally funded research into basic science at academic institutions could be spun off for the consumer market. Since the Act was passed into law there have been 153 drugs, which have benefited patients all over the world after having been developed at university research labs; prior to Bayh-Dole, there were zero. These include treatments for breast cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and infections incurred during the course of cancer treatment, to name but a few.

Given Ars Technica’s reliable anti-patent stance of virtually every issue one has to wonder whether publishing an article that proclaims attempts to cure cancer as “a terrible idea” aren’t just cruel per se, but cruel in the name of staying true to their hatred of patents. Over the last 35 years many revolutionary innovations have been discovered thanks to federally sponsored funding and commercialized as the result of Bayh-Dole. Of course, so many elites hate Bayh-Dole and would rather no innovation come from universities into the market for use by society, which is exactly what happened prior to passage of Bayh-Dole. The calls to return to laws and policy in existence when no federally sponsored research was commercialized is rather clueless, and nearly as cruel as standing in the way of increasing cancer research. After all, repealing Bayh-Dole would have a more deleterious effect.

We should be grateful that the American intellectual property landscape already has the infrastructure in place to make such a cancer moonshot not only possible but likely successful. Critiques like the one from Ars Technica are right only to the extent they say that increased federal funding for research shouldn’t mean throwing money all over the place, but who is suggesting that?

There is already an infrastructure in place, both on the public side and on the private side with countless foundations supporting cancer research, some even donating 100% of every dollar raised, such as The Jimmy V Foundation. So if Gitlin thinks NIH cannot efficiently administer additional grants perhaps he would have been better served to identify what could be done with additional financial resources, rather than call this important endeavor a terrible idea as if he is the arbiter of all ideas that are good. I assure you there are plenty of organizations and researchers doing excellent work that could use additional funding.

Simply stated, there is no reason to understate what is currently one of the biggest challenges of our time. Bullish statements don’t always make good policy, but this cancer moonshot initiative could inspire the next generation of scientists and medical researchers while providing additional funding immediately to engage in ever more research. Calling that a terrible idea is nothing short of breathtakingly stupid.


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Join the Discussion

47 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    April 6, 2016 02:22 pm

    Just posted a new article on the topic of the Cancer Moonshot. See:



  • [Avatar for Mike]
    February 9, 2016 02:53 pm

    Well, the president has issued his instructions, and it is a far cry from anything that could be described as a moonshot. Except, of course, in the name of the group he establishes, the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force. The modest goal of the task force is to accomplish in five years what otherwise might have required ten. So at least a realistic target, although nothing that could be considered a cure.

    Representatives of 13 executive agencies will form the task force, chaired by the Vice-President and funded by the NIH. Their job appears to be to produce a detailed set of findings and recommendations after consulting with external experts. The National Cancer Advisory Board is also strongly encouraged to set up its own panel of scientific experts to provide input. No new funding is provided; the NIH is expected to fund their tasks within existing appropriations, and the executive agencies will bear their own expenses for participating.

    White House memorandum can be found at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/28/memorandum-white-house-cancer-moonshot-task-force

  • [Avatar for Charles]
    February 2, 2016 02:22 pm

    The article talks about parallels between space exploration and this “cancer moonshot”. There’s actually a much more literal connection to space exploration. One of the major obstacles to space travel beyond Low Earth Orbit is radiation. Without sufficient radiation shielding, astronauts are subjected to greatly increased cancer risk. Radiation shielding is heavy, which greatly adds to the cost of space travel. But if cancer research were advanced to the point where getting cancer is no worse than catching the flu, we could explore the solar system without worrying about expensive radiation shielding.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    February 2, 2016 09:08 am


    I have nothing against alternative medicine and holistic approaches to wellness as long as they work. Many times they do. Unfortunately, many times they promise great things and they deliver very little.

    As far as your claim that the war on cancer has been unsuccessful and a failure, that is extraordinarily ignorant. Only someone with an agenda could look at all the medical breakthroughs and how medicine has been able to prolong life for many who suffer from cancer and so wrongly conclude that there has been no benefit from cancer research. Obviously you are intellectually dishonest and not interested in a thoughtful conversation.

    As for the breast cancer awareness movement, clearly the women who were motivated to get tested and found out they had early stage breast cancer would disagree with you. So while you are entitled to your own opinion you are not entitled to your own facts. If you want to hold an opinion based only on a skewed view of reality that is up to you, but don’t expect that skewed view of reality to be embraced here.


  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    February 2, 2016 08:30 am

    Night Writer,

    Good discussion.

    I think we are in agreement on most points.

    Both the President and SCOTUS pick the so-called “friends” (amicie) of the Court and of the White House.

    These “friends” whisper friendly thoughts into the straw heads of the office holders. Thoughts about moonshot projects (awarded to guess whom). Thoughts about “clean” energies and plucking leaves from trees. Thoughts about “innovation” in place of invention. Thoughts about the corporate “we” in place of the individual me. Thoughts about finance being free and clear of patent rights because its all “abstract” and yet runs Wall Street and the path of the nation.

    What’s worse is how many lower positioned folk line up to march in the Emperor’s fashion parade because they believe in the go along to get along slogan.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    February 2, 2016 08:09 am

    Also, I think a real problem is that what happens when you have this central control is that the people that seem to win all the money are the charlatans. I won’t mention names, but I have seen researchers get millions of dollars and produce nothing and their “ideas” are garbage. I’ve seen these people give talks in rooms with Nobel Laureate and be booed. And yet, they lavished with money by the central bozos. (And many years later have produced nothing of worth.)

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    February 2, 2016 08:01 am

    Many of the greatest scientific discoveries came when the scientist wasn’t even looking for what was learned/discovered/invented.

    Plus I wrote a proposal to the NSF before was a PI. I don’t think having science evaluated by a central brain of how it will further a particular goal is a good idea.

    Plus, just consider that the reason there is so much income disparity and the country is falling apart is: no regulation on banks, stock options for pay with no taxes, no control of immigration with a vast pool of slave labor, free trade with no controls on labor and environment, monetary instead of fiscal stimulus, endless spending on never ending wars, and the endless addition of new laws and regulations that has cowed the people (talk about taking away individual liberty; how can anyone feel free when you have probably broken laws the past year and don’t even know what they are; and no mens rea.).

    And, guess what? The Republicans and Democrats are pretty much on the same side of each of those issues. Clinton is far to the right of Trump.

    Anyway, patents now are just a victim of K street. The clowns yap along with Google for $$. I doubt there is any president that will fight to re-build the central structure (not control) that made this country great.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    February 2, 2016 07:44 am

    step back @38: I absolutely agree with what you said. But, what you said is just a derivative of the whole moonshot thing. The individual researcher’s initiative is being taken away by everything being evaluated of how it will fit into the moonshot. I don’t think science works like that.

    Actually, a fundamental tenant of many liberal democratic people is that individual initiative is central to building a strong society. I can’t remember off the top of my head. There is a book about this and why the third world is having so much trouble, which is all based on human dignity with the core value being individual initiative. I think Obama/Clinton are corporate clowns at best.

    But, this goes to patents too. Central control is not good. Central structure (like patents) is. I think anyone with half a brain can see that the patent system is being torn down for the monopolies. (But, seriously, Obama doesn’t even use his power to try and get things like money for infrastructure.)

  • [Avatar for Carolyn]
    February 2, 2016 12:38 am

    @Gene Quinn:

    You say “I do read a lot about various cancer breakthroughs” and “Particularly in light of the countless advances that have occurred over the last 44 years and the sequencing of the genome” and this cancer moonshot initiative could inspire the next generation of scientists and medical researchers while providing additional funding immediately to engage in ever more research.”

    The mainstream medical business has announced countless cancer treatment “breakthrough” or “promise” over the last several decades, usually they are empty promises because the war on cancer has been, by and large, a complete failure (read Guy Faguet’s ‘War on cancer” or Sam Epstein’s work).

    The real historical facts on the ‘war on cancer’ shows just how highly unsuccessful this “war” was and why any new government-funded push for another such “war” is going to yet another near total waste of money as far as the public concerns but of course not for the interests of the huge cancer business.

    Dubiously, “revolutionary” or “breakthrough” cancer therapies are always coming from orthodox medicine whereas relevant alternative cancer therapies get suppressed by this big business.

    Few people question, or have questioned, what’s really behind the endless calls for breast cancer awareness and the war on cancer. Most people would be much smarter and better informed if they had awareness of what this movement or the war on cancer doesn’t raise awareness about.

    Knowing that the most prominent cancer charities are large self-serving businesses instead of “charities” or that these groups suppress critical information on breast cancer, such as the known causes of cancer or that many “breast cancer survivors” are victims of harm instead of receivers of benefit, or that they’ve been intentionally misleading the ignorant public with deceptive cancer survival statistics, or that government health bodies such as the NIH is merely a pawn for corporate mediicne, etc (read the well referenced afterword of this article on the war on cancer: do a search engine query for “A Mammogram Letter The British Medical Journal Censored”) is a good start.

    The recognition that breast cancer awareness or the war on cancer were started by these government-business complex interests is another piece of the real awareness.

    So, raising “awareness” about breast cancer or raising funds for the war on cancer have hardly any other function than to drive more unsuspecting people into getting more expensive and unnecessary tests (think mammography) and then, often, cancer treatments.

    The history of the pink ribbon movement and the alleged war on cancer is fraught by corruption, propaganda, and the hoodwinking of the unsuspecting public. The entire war on cancer is a disinformation campaign. The real war is on the unsuspecting public.

    Politics and self-serving interests of the conventional medical cartel keep the real truth far away from the public at large. Quinn does a good job serving the medical establishment.

  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    February 1, 2016 10:50 pm

    NW @37

    I guess we have different bones to pick with regard to Obama and the “moonshot”.

    For me it’s the collectivist “we” thing as in, “we” went to the moon and ergo “we” can do anything “we” put our mind to. Just pick any topic one doesn’t know much about like, “cancer” or the human “mind” or “genetics” or “computers” and add the buzzword, “moonshot” to as if the verbiage itself will take us there and make us great again.

    What ever happened to the individual inventor and what he or she as an individual does? What ever happened to the individual Einstein or Newton or Galileo who sees beyond what the “we” crowd tells him to see? Why don’t we celebrate that anymore? What’s with the three little piggies going we we we all the way home?

    I never did like very much the idea of math class by consensus, where the students as a group decide what the correct answer is to the math problem rather than each working it out on his or her own.

    By casting our lot with the “we” and by placing less onus on the “me”, we as a community become mediocre and less than we could have been.

    I was disappointed with Justice Scalia when he said, I don’t personally understand this biotech stuff (Myriad) but I’m going to go along with the “we” decision in order to get along. Which Founding Father held his head tall under that philosophy?

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    February 1, 2016 08:52 pm

    >>No offense NW, but I think there is a bit of ethnic stereotyping here

    No that isn’t it. There is something going on about becoming president where they become bubble people. Bush was the same way.

    Plus, you know, step back, what this is about is initiative to make change. I tend to agree with you about the justices, but Obama is just a very mediocre person.

    I am not the only one that says that. Chomsky said the same thing. Michael Moore said the same thing. Many others have said the same thing on the left and the right. It is not about raw intelligence, but whether or not he is effective as a president. Obama is not. It is initiative.

    What is going on here —with patents–is that Obama is ceding his authority to Google. Just like with the financial institutions with Clinton and Goldman Sachs, we have Obama ceding all authority to the “intellectuals” like Lemley. I think they do play into the flattery card to make Obama believe he is just the smartest little boy on the block.

    Anyway, I like Clinton and Bush even less than Obama. But, you know what is going on in politics right now is mirrored in patents. The problem is the things that actually govern our work and life are not being discussed and are no longer understood. K street creates these marketing versions of reality and then Congress and Obama act on it. The odd thing is that I think Trump is actually left of Clinton.

    I am actually a liberal democrat, but Obama is a terrible president. He has done practically nothing when he had all the opportunity in the world in 2009 to make real change. He didn’t. Not much is different from a Bush presidency. Bush got caught with derivatives, but Obama could get into the same kind of trouble.

    (Like the water in Flint. You know I read an article about 12 years ago and many since then that said this was going to start happening because of the lack of spending on infrastructure and how the poor are becoming more and more disenfranchised.) So, Obama getting on the tube and complaining about Flint is a joke. Anyone that reads knew this was coming and Obama could have and should have stopped this 7 years ago.

    Patents are the same thing. Anyone with a brain can see what is happening with Google and the other large tech companies that want monopolies.

    Michael Moore said it best. Obama will be remembered in 100 years as the first black president, but not for much else.

  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    February 1, 2016 04:54 pm

    It is weird thing about Obama. He obviously is very lazy (as lazy as Bush) and has that same blissful smile that Bush had.

    No offense NW, but I think there is a bit of ethnic stereotyping here. If you followed President Obama more closely you would realize that he is the exact opposite of lazy. He moves very fast from topic to topic and shows a super-human ability to talk intelligently on each topic.

    For example, the video clip I include in my blog post here:

    shows only one of 3 sets that Obama jumps between as he is interviewed by his friends at Google on different topics. A lazy person or one of mere mortal intellect could never do that.

    I suspect that the latter is what trips Obama up. Because he is far more capable than the average citizen he deludes himself into believing that he is far more capable than he actually is in matters of science and technology. The same goes for our Supreme Court Justices. They cave in to the vice of vanity by allowing “friends” of the court to convince them that gene slicing is no more difficult than plucking a leaf off a tree or peeling a banana, that any engineering student can code up his/her computer over weekend’s last twilight gleaming. It ain’t just so though.

    We are all easily fooled by our belief that we are smarter than we actually are or that the next person is far less smart than are we. Best to be very humble in the area of intellect and capability.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    February 1, 2016 03:37 pm

    >a shallow understanding of the topic and a lack of knowledge of historical medical, and especially cancer, research.

    It is weird thing about Obama. He obviously is very lazy (as lazy as Bush) and has that same blissful smile that Bush had.

    What is weird, though, is that Obama takes the advice of industries if they ply him with money, but if you aren’t pouring money into the poltical machine, then you are like a charity case and the politicians don’t even bother to consult with or try to understand what the science needs. (As opposed to just doing anything Wall Street tells them to do.)

    Mike @32: I agree with you. Basic research does not lend itself to moonshots. I’ll bet we could find on the Internet a list of $50 billion dollars worth of equipment that the scientist are begging for right now, but do not have to advance basic science.
    (We can thank Reagan for this and cancelling our accelerator.)

  • [Avatar for nat scientist]
    nat scientist
    February 1, 2016 03:33 pm

    Heaven help us all when the captains of the river of “stare decisis” like lawyers/politicians, and epoymously-named foundation directors get license to control the ocean of vision suggested by artists, poets, and scientists. I shook JFK’s hand, looked in his eye, and knew was no mere politician. As the title photo highlights, this is one corporate-fed politician feeding another with no metric in sight. The politicians will save more innocent lives trying a moonshot for non-violent solutions, as history recalls we were knee-deep in the big muddy in VietNam just after JFK’s goal was set, and by the time the “one small step for man” was accomplished, we accomplished this war based on a completely-debunkable lie. Now that’s a job more suited to a lifelong politician, curing the lie that might makes right, and not God’s gift given only to exceptionals.
    Please stay on the trail, great lawyer, and discuss lepers and crooks. You are completely over your skis with science theory, and clearly uninformed. And you can’t stop me from loving your blog. Keep up the good work!

    On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that two days earlier, U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin had been attacked by the North Vietnamese. Johnson dispatched U.S. planes against the attackers and asked Congress to pass a resolution to support his actions.


  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    February 1, 2016 12:08 pm

    Mike @32,

    Bravo and well said.

    I think each of us is way too dismissive of the depth of knowledge and skills that people in other fields possess and way too ignorant and hubiristic of the complexity of the universe.

    The Dunning Kruger effect afflicts us all.

  • [Avatar for Mike]
    February 1, 2016 11:17 am


    I appreciate your reply, but I can only believe it was written hastily and without careful thought about what I was saying. Either that, or I write a lot less carefully than I thought I did. I have to say you have me wrong on almost everything you assumed about me.

    First, although I have observed you to be dismissive of credentials when they conflict with your perception of a respondent’s expertise, I cannot let “I think your knowledge of the topic is rather shallow, and your knowledge of historical medical research wanting” stand without comment. I had over 20 years of experience in medicinal chemistry research in my first career at a major pharmaceutical company, and spent 10 of that 20 years in cancer research. I was on the project team that developed Aricept, the first FDA treatment approved for Alzheimer’s Disease, another horrendous disease many despaired of ever treating. (Definitely not a cure, however). I also synthesized some of the first EGFR inhibitors that went into clinical trials for cancer treatment, culminating in gefitinib. As a second career, I help clients pursue patents in the fields of biotechnology and medical research, with a large part of my work in antibody research. As you probably know, this is currently one of the hot spots in the development of cancer treatments. I suspect my knowledge of cancer research and the history of medical research is about as shallow as your knowledge of patent law and software development.

    Second, I am by no means a “skeptic” about any pursuit of medical research. I think it is an extremely valuable pursuit, and have no issue with providing all of the support necessary to achieve cures wherever possible. My disagreement with you was not about whether cancer research should be funded, but about whether a “moonshot” approach would be useful, or even whether the words had any possible meaning as applied to cancer research.

    Third, I tried to make the point that the concept of a “cure” for cancer as most people understand the word “cure”, really doesn’t apply. Here, you actually make my point very clearly. The statistics you quote are not cure rates, as you admit in successive responses. For any other disease, a “cure” is eliminating the disease in the general population, not just in a fortunate subset of the stricken with the remaining population just living with it. Specifically, you say “As for survival rates, the 10-15 year survival rate for any population would not be 100%, as people will die for a variety of other reasons.” However, 10 year survival rates being lower than 5 year survival rates does not mean that people are dying of other things, because the survival rates are controlled for other causes of death. It means people are dying of breast cancer 10 years after they were first diagnosed. At 16-20 years after treatment, 47% of people who had survived that long were dying of breast cancer. This does not represent a cure in my book. For metastatic breast cancer, median survival after diagnosis is 3 years, and in spite of aggressive research there has been no statistically significant improvement in the past 20 years (data from 2011). Prostate cancer, as you admit, is perhaps the slowest growing and least symptomatic of all the cancers, and although fairly common in older men, is almost never treated. With PSA, we also have a simple non-invasive test for the presence of prostate cancer even in very early stages. So the 5-year survival rate is close to 100%, the 10-year survival rate is 99%, and the 15-year survival rate is 94%. Does this mean we cured prostate cancer? No, because almost none of these survivors are cancer free. They simply survive with cancer, and if they don’t die of something else first, most will eventually die of it.

    Do I think cancer research is valuable? Absolutely! Incredibly valuable, and the NIH agrees. Their categorical spending report from Feb 5, 2015 shows that cancer is their highest funded disease category at nearly $5.5 billion in 2014, and the sixth highest category of research funded. The top five categories are clinical research, genetics, prevention, biotechnology, and neurosciences, and the most of those are also of critical importance to curing cancer.

    You also state, “Your comment also seems to suggest that you think research, perhaps particularly medical research, is siloed, which is simply not the case.” No, I don’t think it is siloed at present, but I think that is what a moonshot approach implies. Should we try to define a specific target of, say, a complete cure of ER negative/PR negative/Her2 negative, BRCA1 positive breast cancer, appoint a director, and direct all of our cancer research in a top-down manner in the form of a “moonshot” to achieve that goal? Absolutely not. I believe we have the form of cancer research that we need – vast amounts of both public and private funding directed to a wide-ranging network of diagnostic methods, treatment methods, genetic approaches, clinical studies, epidemiological and ecological studies, and any other individual research project that can demonstrate a reasonable hope of bringing about a better understanding of this huge landscape of diseases – my “map of the universe” analogy. A moonshot would be a waste of our resources.

    Which brings us to your dismissive concluding thought, “but given that you didn’t know that there are cancers with 90% or greater cure rates I don’t think I’ll trust your opinion.” As I tried to point out, a “cure” for cancer is an undefined term, and you make that point for me again here. What you are calling a “cure” is five-year survival after diagnosis of the earliest possible stage of a disease state that typically follows a slow progression in its early stages. We have raised the “cure” rate in that sense in large part in both breast and prostate cancer simply by discovering the cancers years earlier. Although valuable in itself, this early diagnosis in no sense implies a cure. Especially if 47% of the people who survive it (breast cancer) for 10 years will still die of it eventually.

    I’m afraid your responses in general show the very limited understanding of cancer research largely reflected in the general population and given form again in yet another generation by another president’s call for a moonshot to treat cancer. I applaud the president’s intention, but as so many others in this forum have stated, using a moonshot analogy is inappropriate and, if actually carried through, would most likely be counterproductive both in terms of cancer research and in lost opportunities for improving human health across a broad array of other diseases. I believe this call for a moonshot is the true definition of a shallow understanding of the topic and a lack of knowledge of historical medical, and especially cancer, research.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    January 31, 2016 02:37 pm

    step back,

    I have identified (albeit a bit cheeky for such a somber subject as cancer) the Supreme solution:

    include pizza for those students.

  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    January 31, 2016 02:19 pm

    Gene @29

    New articles and clinical trials for GBM come out almost weekly.

    We keep hoping each time that someone will come up with the true breakthrough.

    One of the problems with GBM is the M part. It constantly mutates into something else. A moving target that is always one step ahead of you. Cancer is not cancer. There are hundreds of different kinds. That is why the moonshot idea is kinda childish and naive. It’s not as if oncologists have been twiddling their thumbs all these years and waiting for Mission Control Joe to unleash their ingenuity. They have been steadfastly working on these problems day in and day out for years. Not every problem gets solved over the weekend by a 2nd year engineering student.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 31, 2016 12:03 pm

    Came across this article today on Facebook about a potentially interesting cancer breakthrough made by the Salk Institute relating to glioblastoma multiforme is a particularly deadly cancer. This is the type of cancer that killed Senator Ted Kennedy.


    The article seemed relevant to the discussion in the comments because it talks about how by blocking NF-kB life expectancy can be dramatically increased in mice. The article explains:

    “Salk scientists tracked which genes were influenced by NF-kB and found one, Timp1, which has been previously implicated in lung cancer. Targeting the Timp1 gene in treatment also slowed tumor growth and increased survival time in mice by a few months.”

    I don’t profess to be an expert on cancer, but I do read a lot about various cancer breakthroughs. It seems to me, perhaps increasingly, we learn that mechanisms to affect one form of cancer are also known to impact other forms of cancer on at least some level.

    So for those who continue to proclaim that we will need 100 different moonshots because each cancer is different, there is at least some evidence that is not the case. Holding onto traditional ways of addressing scientific problems has never lead to paradigm shifting breakthroughs.


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 31, 2016 11:53 am

    Night Writer-

    “You should be on the t.v. advocating and explaining to the American people why we need to spend this money.”

    Impossible to argue with this comment.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 31, 2016 11:52 am


    You say: “In 1971 President Nixon declared a war on cancer.”

    What if when Nixon declared war on cancer there had been Bayh-Dole legislation in place? What if that legislation had a 35+ year track record of enormous success to build on? It isn’t as if we are starting from ground zero here. Who knows what the government will do, and I’m not foolish enough to think that they can’t screw this up. If they do I’ll be there and point it out. I just think comparing Nixon’s “war on cancer” is different. Particularly in light of the countless advances that have occurred over the last 44 years and the sequencing of the genome.

    I have nothing on the war on drugs. The libertarian in me things we should make them legal and tax them. As we learned during prohibition if people want something they will get it and making average people criminals for their desires doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Neither does the revenue going to criminals and terror groups. Complicated issue, but one that would require people who are abusers to take the consequences of their abuse. Off topic.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 31, 2016 11:48 am

    Nat Scientist-

    Your last comment is rather incoherent. You start quoting me, but without the quotes it seems to be a criticism of my thoughts. So that is misleading.

    Second, obviously you are entitled to your opinion of Bill Gates, but your views seem to be based on a peculiar and at best extraordinarily limited understanding of what it is that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does. You really should look into what they do. For example, their efforts to fight malaria have nothing to do with GMO. Likewise, all the scientific research into vaccines has nothing to do with GMO. So I’d suggest that if you are going to have a rambling, incoherent, negative opinion you might want to try and become informed.

    Switching the discussion from cancer research to bankruptcy policy is confusing at best. I’m sure you see a connection.


  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    January 31, 2016 06:40 am

    step back@23
    >In 1971 President Nixon declared a war on cancer.
    He also declared a war on drugs.

    The problem is that money for science is like money for infrastructure. Packaging it like a “moonshot” to make it salable to the people is just another step backwards. Obama is such a terrible president. You should be on the t.v. advocating and explaining to the American people why we need to spend this money.

  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    January 31, 2016 04:13 am

    Gene @21

    Yes, setting goals is a wonderful idea.

    In 1971 President Nixon declared a war on cancer.
    He also declared a war on drugs.

    Here we are more than 50 years later still waiting for victory in those endeavors and in the attainment of commercial fusion power too cheap to meter. As the man from La Mancha put it, to dream …

    (Of course in patent law we have this little thing called enablement which separates the dreamers from the achievers.)

  • [Avatar for nat scientist]
    nat scientist
    January 31, 2016 12:14 am

    Your logic is really terribly questionable. Under your way of thinking Bill Gates should simply stay out of the way and let real scientists engage and presumably dismantle the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. After all, Gates didn’t even finish college.

    Indeed Mr. Gates was not so much without getting away with his EULA theory. In another that ploy might have been kicked to the curb as restraint of trade. How would the motor car industry have fared had Henry Ford was allowed to charge whether any vehicle body manufacturer was obliged to pay for a Ford engine whether or not it was installed?

    but wait! Mr, Gates is doing science very much top down as usual. He and Warren Buffet love the moats they operate behind, where they pick the players that they, in their infinite extraction science, so deign.


    The Gates Foundation Is Trying to Feed the Poor With GMO Propaganda
    A unit of Cornell is operating as a public relations arm for the agrichemical industry.
    By Stacy Malkan / U.S. Right to Know
    January 26, 2016

    If instead of giving Joe Biden a consolation political plum for not crossing Obama in a field he has zero life experience, that moonshot dose of dough could be used to incentivize high school students to enter fundamental and not synthetically- manufactured life sciences by forgiving their debts after a period of remaining at University extending graduate student directed research projects. By the way student debt cred may have more to do with his millennial “F” grade in his presidential decision:


    Vice President Joe Biden played a key role in the financial industry’s four-decade campaign to eliminate bankruptcy protections for student debtors.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    January 30, 2016 04:27 pm

    Gene writes: “I also don’t see anything incompatible with what you write about investing in the basic science and research on a ground up level with a cancer moonshot.”

    What I find to be incompatible or disagreeable at least is the thought of the federal funds being directed to some specific goal of the research. It conjures up images of bureaucrats evaluating research projects based on their claimed merits towards advancing the goal of curing cancer. I don’t think that is the right way to go about it. I think we should be advancing basic research based on it advancing basic research. I think we will cure cancer, but I think the way to do that is to invest in the basic research tools and people and let them do their work.

    The other thing that gets me about this is that science has been losing funding. Obama should stand up on T.V. and advocate for spending on science for science’s sake and expect benefits as it has always yielded, but not to try to put specific goals on the outcome. Science most of the time doesn’t work that way.

    I am for a “moonshot” to increase science funding, but not a goal oriented funding increase where the question is how much closer are we to curing cancer this year. I think that is not the way to advance science.

    Gene: “I also find it interesting that the goal of curing cancer has creates such negative emotion in so many. Just doesn’t make sense to me.”

    I would very much like a cure to cancer. I imagine a “moonshot” including all sorts of silly evaluations about whether this piece of equipment or that one is more likely to advance the goal of curing science. I would very much prefer to respect the scientist and let them tell us what new pieces of equipment they need (without an evaluation of the value of the equipment to curing cancer.)

    Big picture–this just feels wrong. It feels like it is more disrespect for science to me. Get on the tube and tell it like it is Obama–we need to spend lots on basic science and we don’t know what will come of it but something good almost always does.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 30, 2016 03:40 pm


    I didn’t take the Obama comment as a promise to cure cancer as much as a promise to once and for all get serious about doing whatever we can do to bring about an end to cancer. Perhaps the difference is subtle, but I do see a difference.

    I also have to say that I don’t understand the idea that cancer is an abstract concept. How so? I suppose if you refer to “cancer” is a general non-scientific sense it could be abstract (i.e., ISIS is a cancer), but cancer as a medical concept isn’t particularly abstract. It relates on a very basic level to abnormal cell activity.

    As for hubris, perhaps this is where there is a difference between the way engineers and scientists look at the world. In order to accomplish any engineering task of consequence there needs to be enormous hubris. Think Hoover dam for example, the worlds tallest buildings, longest bridges. Saying we would get to the moon also exhibited enormous hubris as well, and to this day we still largely put people on top of millions of pounds of explosives and point the craft up and ignite the fuel.

    The interesting thing about engineering goals is that if you don’t set them you don’t achieve them. I suspect the same is also true for medicine.

    Isn’t this exactly the entire point of the patent system? To incentivize people to attempt to achieve? One of the main criticisms of KSR was that as the decision is actually written if you set out to accomplish something and you do accomplish that thing then what you accomplished was obvious. We all joke about that because setting a goal can’t possibly ipso facto make the achieved outcome obvious. But here with this for some reason we are talking about the setting of the goal being nonsense and silly. How could you possibly achieve anything without trying to achieve it unless it were accidental? In context of KSR we all seem to understand that reasoning is ridiculous. That which was accidentally invented cannot possibly be all that could be patented because that would mean virtually nothing would be patented. Take one more fraction of a step… if you cannot set lofty reach goals that seem impossible then how could you ever anticipate achieving the outcome?

  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    January 30, 2016 03:00 pm

    I also find it interesting that the goal of curing cancer has creates such negative emotion in so many. Just doesn’t make sense to me.


    I get where you are coming from. Honestly I do.
    On the other hand, I am one of the people who reacts in an infuriated negative way to politicians and many others outside the medical community declaring that the greatest country on earth can declare a new Manhattan Project, a new Moonshot Project to eradicate all cancers once and for all with good ole’ Joe at the helm of Mission Control.

    Those kind of declarations demonstrate extreme ignorance and extreme hubris with regard to the subject matter at hand, the “abstract” concept of cancer and the reality of the astronomical number of different pathologies and causes that underlie that overly simplifying word.

    The phrase, “moonshot to cure all cancers once and for all” is just as infuriating to some, if not more, than is to others the phrase, “have any 2nd year engineering student code up a generic computer over the weekend” (to implement an enterprise wide secured network application system involving financials –see Paul’s post at

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 30, 2016 11:31 am

    Night Writer-

    You say: ” The way to advance science is with funding basic research.”


    You say: “we should be focusing on doing things like improving the infrastructure of basic research and increasing the budget of the NSF”


    You say: “and NOT silly nonsense like “moon shots.””

    I just don’t understand how or why the Obama announced moonshot is silly or nonsense. Also, you and others who don’t like it seem to be making enormous assumptions. You seem to assume that the government is going to screw this up and is going to just waste money. Now that is a distinct possibility, but calling a greater commitment to eradicate cancer nonsense or silly seems to me to be rather silly itself.

    I also don’t see anything incompatible with what you write about investing in the basic science and research on a ground up level with a cancer moonshot.

    I also find it interesting that the goal of curing cancer has creates such negative emotion in so many. Just doesn’t make sense to me.

    What exactly are we supposed to do? Should we say that the likelihood that we will ever cure cancer is pretty much zero so we really should not set out to try and cure cancer, but rather we should just invest in funding basic research without a particular focus, buy better equipment for scientists to play with and just see what, if anything, they come up with?

    The criticisms I hear about this initiative are that it is nebulous. I disagree. I know perfectly well what is meant by “cure cancer,” and I suspect everyone else does too. The goal is certainly a lofty reach — no doubt about it, but nebulous no. What is nebulous is just funding basic research without any particular goal or focus in mind. We get what we get. Frankly, on a patent forum like this I’d have thought the power of incentive would be well understood, and having a goal to achieve, as we saw with the moon project and so many other engineering marvels throughout time, does help.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    January 30, 2016 10:15 am

    Well, I am dubious of a “moon shot” regarding cancer. I know a bit about cancer since I had it. I would rather that basic research be better funded in general rather than these ridiculous targeted efforts. How about a new accelerator? How about more money for research equipment in general? The way to advance science is with funding basic research.

    I would fall on the side of Steve in that there are many forms of cancer and it is likely that there is not one solution but many. In any case, we should be focusing on doing things like improving the infrastructure of basic research and increasing the budget of the NSF and NOT silly nonsense like “moon shots.”

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 29, 2016 05:24 pm


    What I wrote is certainly not preposterous. You said point blank that we would need a moonshot level of commitment for every single type of cancer if we are going to cure cancer. I just point out that you do not know that to be true despite how authoritatively you said it.

    You write: “The point is many cancer researchers believe that a cure all is not in the cards…”

    And throughout history the same could be said for virtually every problem that was viewed as impossibly difficult. Perhaps they are correct, perhaps they are not correct. But given how we have just really started to unlock the secrets of the genome and understand the relationships between genetic mutations and disease, for example, it seems exceedingly naive to me to make such sweeping statements.

    You write: “Each attempt to develop a drug is an enormous endeavor, which often ends in failure.”

    The same can be said for any drug, but that doesn’t seem to be a justification for not seeking cures or treatments for other diseases.

    You write: “Since I do not see you debating the nebulousness of the mission…”

    Actually, if you read the article you would see that was one of the first things I took issue with in the article. It is, in my opinion, completely ridiculous to say it is a nebulous goal to cure cancer. It is anything but nebulous. How exactly does the goal statement present any confusion? Perhaps the goal statement could be amended to “effectively cure cancer,” which could include making cancer a chronic condition that is managed and does not kill, but the goal of curing cancer and the rational for wanting to cure cancer seem pretty self evident.

    You write: “well you quoted 100% for 5 years, are you suggesting that no one dies 5 for ANY reason 5 years after getting cancer?”

    First, that isn’t what I wrote. I wrote “nearly 100%.” Second, that comes from the American Cancer Society, so if you have an issue you can take it up with them. Third, if you are familiar with prostate cancer you that generally it grows very slow, that thanks to advances in detection and treatment it is incredibly manageable if not curable. So yes, it may be a much easier form of cancer to deal with given that the prostate can be removed, but how would we know that if we were to scale back on cancer research?

    Finally, you write: “Something you accused me of having in your last post, a excessive amount of hubris. It is your hubris that will not allow you to open your ears and listen to a reader informed on this topic.”

    That is perhaps one of the most ignorant things I think I’ve read recently. You come here and make all kinds of declarative statements about scientific fact, but we all know that you have no idea whether they are true or not. Nevertheless, you make those statements in a declarative factual manner and then you tell me that I’m the one full of hubris? Really?

    Hubris. Excessive pride or self-confidence.

    So you are the one making grandiose statements of scientific fact and throwing up your hands. You say that we will need 100 moonshots, nothing less. The implication is why bother. You say that cancer is personal and the treatment for one person doesn’t always work for another person. But we are just at the dawn of the age of personalize medicine, and we are really just starting to unlock the secrets of the genome, specifically with respect to what impact certain mutations play in disease, the impact of nutrition plays, etc. So for you to say with certainty that we will need 100 moonshots is particularly shortsighted. It shows that your thinking is mired in the current orthodoxy and you are unwilling to ask the critical questions that absolutely must be asked. Apparently, because I point out that there is no way for you to know that ultimately science won’t find a common link means I’m the one with hubris. Of course, your certainty based on the science that exists today and ignoring where science is or may be heading is not hubris. I get it.

    Your problem is you are falling prey to the same problem that virtually all aging minds fall prey to, which is you know the rules so well you forgot how to ask the questions why and why not. You have forgotten to challenge the impossible. Rather than imagine, dream and question the orthodoxy, which is how innovation is achieved, you matter of factly say things that prove you have a closed mind. I have nothing against researchers trying to find cancer specific treatments and cures, but why would you ever want to discourage someone from engaging in research of a different sort? It is the research that breaks the mold that leads to the greatest discoveries, and no research is a waste as Edison famously said. If it doesn’t work at least now you know what doesn’t work.

    You believe cancer researchers who think this is a fools errand, I get it. You don’t want to spend a lot of money going down this path it seems because too much has already been spent and new creative ways of thinking couldn’t possibly make any different. But your comments are the ones that are full of hubris. My comments are full of hope and an acknowledgement that we don’t have all the answers and we should provide funding and encouragement to the great minds that are willing to ask those questions. Sure, fund those who are pursuing traditional science within the current establishment norms, but paradigm shifting innovation happens when the best and brightest young minds are encouraged (and funded) to ask what if, instead of constantly put back in a box.

    How you can say that I should just listen to youm and that isn’t hubris, is shocking. Read what you wrote out loud. Read why it is that the greatest scientific minds don’t make major breakthroughs after a certain age and then come back and tell me that you are the one who has the open mind and I’m the one full of hubris. I want to encourage anyone who has an idea about how to fight, cure or treat cancer to proceed. I don’t want scientific norms or closed minded individuals getting in the way. So if that is hubris than I’m guilty, but begging for answers and for people to pursue every avenue to find a cure doesn’t sound like hubris to me.


  • [Avatar for steven]
    January 29, 2016 04:19 pm


    I guess I will have to re-write.


    Please go back and read my posts. Whether you meant to or not, you twisted my words and made false claims about what I wrote. I never asserted that the funding was not purposeful, or that we will not learn about multiple cancers from studying one. To suggest I said it was gospel is preposterous. I said I think you are downplaying the enormity of the mission, that the subject line of curing cancer is nebulous and there is an argument to be made that we should be spending that money elsewhere. I would have been fine if you disagreed with me on these points, but to twist what I said is flat out wrong.

    Again, I never said the knowledge gained from one cancer was not applicable to another. I gave 1 example or real drugs being developed right now that would not work with other cancers. These types of drugs are meant to be specific by design, and will not translate into a therapy for another cancer. Can we take what we learn? Sure. Will it help us design new drugs for other cancers? Of course!

    In fact to take my analogy further- we would learn something new from each moon landing, which would help us get to the next one. Is it conceivable that we develop a teleporter that can get us to every single moon right away (cure all), sure, but most researchers don’t think this is possible. Instead, many believe we will need a specific mission for each moon/planet.

    The point is many cancer researchers believe that a cure all is not in the cards and many of the potentially most effective therapies that are currently being developed are for a specific cancer that by design wont work well on other cancers. Each attempt to develop a drug is an enormous endeavor, which often ends in failure. Again, just look at the money it took to get to the moon vs. the money that has already been poured into curing cancer.

    Since I do not see you debating the nebulousness of the mission, I will assume we can agree that it is, at this point, nebulous.

    I appreciated reading your blog on almost a daily basis, and have learned a lot. However, I noticed something during your arguments with Cuban. Something you accused me of having in your last post, a excessive amount of hubris. It is your hubris that will not allow you to open your ears and listen to a reader informed on this topic. Why you attacked me and twisted my words the way you did when I was trying to intellectually contribute to the thread is beyond me. I wanted to enter my opinion, and you tried to turn it into some sort of deranged pissing contest.

    As for the survival rates- you stated mine were misleading. Nope- yours are. According to what you wrong “the 10-15 year survival rate for any population would not be 100%, as people will die for a variety of other reasons” – OK, well you quoted 100% for 5 years, are you suggesting that no one dies 5 for ANY reason 5 years after getting cancer? Well lets instead fund a method to give everyone stage 0 cancer and keep it there.

    According to the article “Impact of triple-negative breast cancer phenotype on prognosis in patients with stage I breast cancer” the 10 year survival rate for stage I is 83% compared to 91% of patients with other breast cancer. Sources vary from 75-85 from what I have seen BTW. This is a statistically significant difference which is much lower than 100%, exactly what I said in my last post.

  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    January 29, 2016 04:05 pm

    nat scientist @13

    Feel your pain. Also lost a loved one to MGB (as did the VP).
    If politicians understood what is involved in fighting this most terminal of cancers they would not be so glib with all that yes we can and moonshot talk. We need to be humble. Medicine is very complex. The universe is very complex. Let’s not delude ourselves into believing we are oh so smart, capable and powerful.

  • [Avatar for steven]
    January 29, 2016 03:55 pm

    why did my last post not add?

  • [Avatar for nat scientist]
    nat scientist
    January 28, 2016 09:35 pm

    Thank you for your consideration. I spoke from my heart as a lfelong scientist seeing most of my colleagues disabled by financial and political considerations, and the regular absence of any requirement of economic education. I spent two decades in institutional finance and another decade reflecting on the reasons that ultimately political paradigms control both science and finance. I see no black helicopters or malice, I present a dialectic, and again, thank you for the opportunity to advance a question born in fairness, but I think you have put quite a few words in my mouth that would have never existed absent further reflection on your part. It’s your world and I respect your opinion in any event. I have a heart as big as the VP and I breathed the last breath into my baby sister in her crib being shutdown by a virulent recurrence of a glioblastoma, but my tears dry on their own and I live to wonder why and try to help to understand. I favor politicians dealing with other politicians since that is the fate they chose, and I happen to believe that they live as far from the nature of disruption that science requires as a philosophy can imagine.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 28, 2016 04:24 pm

    Nat scientist-

    You ask: “Are you comfortable with a hierachy of power over the blood supply of science ideas is headed by a lifelong politician…”

    So am I comfortable with the Vice President, who lost his son to brain cancer, being the government point person who oversees a government funded operation to attempt to cure cancer? Absolutely.

    Your question is rather loaded and really quite telling. I don’t think Biden is going to overlord over the blood supply of science, as you seem to think.

    Your logic is really terribly questionable. Under your way of thinking Bill Gates should simply stay out of the way and let real scientists engage and presumably dismantle the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. After all, Gates didn’t even finish college.

    As for the Clintons, while I certainly am no bleeding heart liberal by any stretch of the imagination, or even a Democrat, I think your vision of money being directed by those who have no scientific knowledge is right out of the black helicopter school of thought. That isn’t how legitimate foundations work, and given all the enemies the Clintons have I’d be shocked if they were running a scam foundation under the radar as you seem to suggest.


  • [Avatar for nat scientist]
    nat scientist
    January 28, 2016 03:55 pm

    “From what I am hearing Vice President Biden is ACTUALLY going to be in charge here. He has the President’s support. I suspect some meetings have already taken place, and there will be other meeting next week. Options are being created and the Vice President will have his fingerprints all over whatever transpires. ”

    Are you comfortable with a hierachy of power over the blood supply of science ideas is headed by a lifelong politician who favors Delaware corporate-home thinking as much as you are with the Clinton Global Initiative directing millions for science projects when neither of them has so much as a B.S. in science nor evidence of the practice of same?

    “…Biden earned his BA degree in 1965 from the University of Delaware in Newark, with a double major in history and political science,[19] graduating with a class rank of 506 out of 688.[20] His classmates were impressed by his cramming abilities,[16] and he played halfback with the Blue Hens freshman football team.[15] In 1964, while on spring break in the Bahamas,[21] he met and began dating Neilia Hunter, who was from an affluent background in Skaneateles, New York, and who attended Syracuse University.[11][22] He told her that he aimed to become a Senator by the age of 30 and then President.[23] He dropped a junior year plan to play for the varsity football team as a defensive back, enabling him to spend more time visiting out of state with her.[15][24]

    He then entered Syracuse University College of Law, receiving a half scholarship based on financial need with some additional assistance based on academics.[25] By his own description, he found law school to be “the biggest bore in the world” and pulled many all-nighters to get by.[16][26] During his first year there, he was accused of having plagiarized 5 of 15 pages of a law review article. Biden said it was inadvertent due to his not knowing the proper rules of citation, and he was permitted to retake the course after receiving an “F” grade, which was subsequently dropped from his record (this incident would later attract attention when further plagiarism accusations emerged in 1987).[26][27] He received his Juris Doctor in 1968,[28] graduating 76th of 85 in his class.[25] Biden was admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1969.[28]…”


    “…While earning his Bachelor of Science degree in International Affairs he worked as an intern in the office of Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. There he learned how government worked and what it was like to be a politician….”


    oops! Bill Clinton does have the word “Science” in his bachelors degree; in the international affairs laboratory.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 28, 2016 02:53 pm


    You say: “When Obama speaks to a ‘cancer moonshot’, he is referring to a similar space program…”

    You also say: “Since the NiH ALREADY is doing this (without the same degree of media hype)…the hypothesis is that it would mean MUCH MORE funding funneled through the NiH.”

    The problem here is you (and many others, including Mr. Gitlin) are making assumptions. President Obama called this a cancer moonshot to draw an comparison to the space program, but based on my sources that is to show his level of commitment.

    From what I am hearing Vice President Biden is ACTUALLY going to be in charge here. He has the President’s support. I suspect some meetings have already taken place, and there will be other meeting next week. Options are being created and the Vice President will have his fingerprints all over whatever transpires.

    It may be logical to suspect NIH will be involved, but it is entirely premature to make any educated guess about what path or opportunities will excite the Vice President enough to want to pursue. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot of outside the box thinking here.

    Given that no one knows what the moonshot initiative will look like it is reckless at best to criticize it as a bad idea. Mr. Gitlin was wrong, period. Science without funding goes nowhere. At this point all anyone is talking about is a much greater commitment to once and for all curing cancer, which I suppose could also include turning cancer into a manageable disease that does not kill.

    Stay tuned for more.


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 28, 2016 02:29 pm


    I guess you are right. We should just shut down all cancer research and declare that there is nothing anyone can do! Of course, it is that type of thinking that divides those that succeed and those that fail.

    As for your statement that each cancer requires its own moonshot, you say that as if it is a matter of scientific fact. You say it as if the lessons learned fighting one form of cancer have not been and could never possibly be useful to fighting other forms of cancer. You say it as if it is gospel.

    The one thing we know about science fact is that if you stick around long enough it changes. The only thing we can say with certainty about science fact today is that our understanding is wrong. As more is learned our understanding always changes, it always has and it always will. It is nothing short of the most incredible hubris to suggest that you know for certain that nothing we learn fighting one form of cancer could ever be useful to fight other forms of cancer.

    As for survival rates, the 10-15 year survival rate for any population would not be 100%, as people will die for a variety of other reasons. So you can say my statistics are misleading if you like, but what you write is misleading as well.


  • [Avatar for emmenot]
    January 28, 2016 01:37 pm

    Gene and Steve,

    Thank you for writing this thoughtful and sensitive rebuttal. When I see how far we have come in understanding the genomic basis of cancer and see the scientific AND engineering breakthroughs at major research universities to treat cancer, I can think of no better moonshot for the government to fund. We are past pure research and the time to invest deeply (and wisely) is now.

    There may be flaws with how we mange and fund scientific research, but that is not a reason to do nothing. And curing cancer doesn’t mean that suddenly a generation of scientists will be unemployable a decade from now. That same genome science knowledge can be applied to curing other diseases, creating DNA-based computing, and further personalizing the precise delivery of medical care.

    I am reminded of a Bill Gates quote, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” Applying that line of reasoning to this matter, success and knowledge in one area of science or technology doesn’t necessarily equip you to pass judgement on another area of science, where you lack deep understanding of the current state of the art in that other area of science.

    Also, I am sorry for your loss. I lost my mother to cancer when I was in college. She was a remarkable and accomplished woman, and I can only imagine the impact she would have had if she had lived.

  • [Avatar for steven]
    January 28, 2016 11:05 am


    And another quick point your stats given are misleading. That is a 5-year survival rate (which other sources put from 95-99 percent BTW). Think about it- stage 1- you are treated for breast cancer, even if it comes back you will likely survive 5 years. In certain types of breast cancer survival rate diagnosed in stage 1 is no where near 100% when looking at 10-15 year cancer survival rate.


  • [Avatar for Valuationguy]
    January 28, 2016 10:42 am

    Just an aside…While you seem to question whether a ‘automotive editor’ is qualified to speak to the issue….you seem to gloss over his experience in the NiH…which is HIGHLY RELAVANT to his viewpoint. The NiH currently guides BILLIONs in medical grants annually to various teams around the globe to come up with new drugs and procedures. When Obama speaks to a ‘cancer moonshot’, he is referring to a similar space program (which was funded in large part by the gov’t….either through direct grants to companies involved…or the expectation of long-term gov’t contracts by the same companies).

    Since the NiH ALREADY is doing this (without the same degree of media hype)…the hypothesis is that it would mean MUCH MORE funding funneled through the NiH. Yet Mr. Gitlin…with a true insiders’ viewpoint…is cautioning that this is a bad idea….probably (in my opinion) because a sizable portion of the NiH grants are approved in part due to political influence and graft as much as actual true advancement of medical science. (As with everything that comes out of Washington DC these days….it’s not what you know…its who you know.)

    Personally…I think spending on cancer research is a good thing….and I think it is already happening on the scale that Obama is talking about. However, it is not organized or controlled by a single organization so it isn’t hyped. All further centralization of the funding (in the government) would do would be to increase the possibility of more graft and influence peddling….something we already see too much of in the NiH, FDA, and the rest of Washington (DC).


  • [Avatar for steven]
    January 28, 2016 10:21 am


    Usually I agree with your articles. However, I am not sure you appreciate the difference of a specified landing on a moon with curing cancer. I thought of another analogy similar to Mike, which is curing cancer is not landing on a moon, it is saying we are going to land on 100s of moons and planets. Some will be more difficult to land on than others, some are further than others, some we do not even know exist and some have yet to be formed. For example, some of the most effective and innovative treatments these days are using various drug payloads attached to an antibody to attack a cancer. Not only is this specific to a kind of cancer (e.g. lung), but a type of cancer- and actually even within that type there are variations. Each tumor is unique. A treatment that would work for one persons’s breast cancer, does not mean it will work for another. Obviously this is multiple huge projects- How much more money and more people and more time has been spent trying to cure cancer than landing on the moon?

    Also, the project statement is ill-defined (nebulous) at this point- but how could it not be given curing cancer is not as simple as finding a magical drug at it was just mentioned in SOU. “Master cure” (never will happen) or a “cure” for each cancer? Personalizing care with current treatments? Developing new therapeutics? Prevention/suppression of mechanisms that lead to cancer? Vaccinations against viruses that may cause cancer? Or is it truly all of those things? If so, the amount of funding at the basic science level would have to be insane, much less translational science. We know so little about many cancers, both the cause and how to treat them. Maybe the cause is viruses, toxins, bacteria, intrinsic, combination, etc. Landing on the moon was very specific in comparison. It was not that we had no clue on what the best way would be- by boat, or bringing the moon closer to us by tractor beam or blow up the moon so it falls to Earth. We knew- It was make a spaceship to get us to the moon. Not a different moon either, Earth’s moon. I do not mean to minimize the enormous engineering brilliance and number of issues that those men overcame to land on the moon, but it was a specific goal in comparison. As I said before, each cancer is its own moon.

    And again there is nothing wrong with wanting to put that funding towards a moonshot goal of curing cancer. However, I wish our money was spent elsewhere too. Strokes are killing and debilitating people very day- and they run rampant in my family. My great grandfather died of one, my grandfather is highly debilitated because of multiple strokes, my uncle just had his first stroke at age 50 and many others in my extended family have suffered from a stroke. Medication has not worked well, and it has caused great distress. But no cancer in my family. Who are you to say it is cruel not to fund cancer treatments, or that money is better spent on cancer vs. stroke research? If Ars Techina’s article is heartless, so is yours. It is an emotional argument, instead of looking at the numbers to determine where the money will have the greatest impact, which is what we should be doing at the federal level, IMO.

    Clearly Ars Technica’s article has hit a nerve with you because of their past views and your mother. You need to take a step back and look at the BIG picture in this case though.

  • [Avatar for nat scientist]
    nat scientist
    January 28, 2016 03:41 am

    More in keeping with the history of science and incentivation, we might be better served by the concept of a soccer match, rather than a war or moonshot each with a fixed paradigm of direction: giving the immune system booster researchers v the immuno-supressant research teams equal funding. The current profits are on the immuno-suppressant team and the politics always follow the money rather than the dialectic game.
    I’ve already bet my life on immune system health and probiotics with an orthomolecular diet, eating way down the food chain.

    to wit:

    Shifting Paradigms in Cancer: Vaccines
    January 22, 2015

    “…If we are to design better cancer treatment vaccines, we must understand why the host immune system is ineffective at clearing cancer in the first place….”



    the money shot Humira theory
    and the ‘biologigs’ Monoclonal antibodies GMOs

    “Long-term immunosuppressive treatment with adalimumab (Humira) is associated with low rates of adverse events such as serious infections and malignancies, with differences being seen according to the underlying disease, researchers reported.

    Most of the melanomas developed in patients who had had other immunosuppressive therapies such as cyclosporin and retinoids, the researchers observed.”


  • [Avatar for SW]
    January 28, 2016 12:38 am

    I disagree with a lot of the Ars Technica article, but I thought there were a few interesting points.

    First, government funding may not actually be the best way to attack the problem. Ironically, this is a strong justification for the patent system – that the government often does a poor job at directing funding, so it is better to encourage private industry to take the risk of ‘picking winners’, by incentivising success with patent protection.

    Second, I was interested in the suggestion that this might simply be a spike in funding that the industry can’t absorb – resulting in training scientists who cannot all be funded once the spike ends. Assuming this is true, however, I don’t see it as an argument not to increase funding; it could equally be used as an argument to make sure funding levels (or other incentives) stay high, to keep supportin continued research and innovation.

    Finally, there should be a genuine discussion as to whether ‘cancer’ is the best place to direct the funding. ‘Cancer’ is certainly a large cause of death, but my understanding is that it is also proportionally well funded by both public and private sectors, compared to other diseases. I think it is important to let people discuss (objectively) the merits of directing funding specifically to cancer, rather than other diseases – without automatically being accused of ignoring its seriousness or significance.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 27, 2016 05:07 pm


    I think your knowledge of the topic is rather shallow, and your knowledge of historical medical research wanting. There have been many diseases that have been cured, or virtually cured, when skeptics like yourself thought the pursuit of a solution was a waste of time.

    You also ask how many cancers have a 100% or even a 90% cure rate. Perhaps you should so some basic research. As it turns out one of the most common forms of cancer does have over a 90% survival rate when caught early.

    Stage 1 breast cancer survival rate is 100%
    Stage 2 breast cancer survival rate is 93%
    Stage 3 breast cancer survival rate is 72%

    It is hardly crazy to think that in the near future that stage 3 breast cancer survival rates will rise. Stage 4 breast cancer survival rates are only 22%, but does that mean we should try?

    Prostate cancer, also has a near 100% survival rate. See:

    There are other forms of cancer when even if detected early the prognosis is not good, such as liver cancer or pancreatic cancer. And cancers like lunch cancer and stomach cancer that provide some hope, but increasingly less hope to the point of no hope if not caught early.

    Your comment also seems to suggest that you think research, perhaps particularly medical research, is siloed, which is simply not the case.

    I do appreciate your considered medical and scientific opinion that a moonshot will be needed for every single form of cancer, but given that you didn’t know that there are cancers with 90% or greater cure rates I don’t think I’ll trust your opinion.


  • [Avatar for mike]
    January 27, 2016 03:18 pm

    The major problem with the statement “let’s cure cancer” is that cancer is not a disease. It is an enormous collection of separate diseases, each affecting a relatively small group of people, and the deeper we get into the genetics of cancer, the more types of cancer we find. The statement “let’s cure cancer” is closer to “let’s map the universe” or “let’s prevent accidents” than “let’s put a man on the moon.”

    Even though we are better at treating cancer than we ever have been, how many cancers have a 100% cure rate? Or even a 90% cure rate? How many of the myriad of diseases that are called “cancer” have we ever “cured”? And yet, people think that a moonshot will somehow cure all of them. Good luck with that. We are going to need another moonshot for every single form of cancer we can identify, and each moonshot will help only a fraction of the people who have “cancer”.