Public-Private Partnerships and the Cancer Moonshot Initiative

Treatment // November 28, 2016

Ever since President Obama announced the Cancer Moonshot Initiative in his State of the Union address earlier this year, the country has been making great progress in meeting the program’s ambitious goals. These goals center on prevention, treatment, and care options for different kinds of cancer as well as different kinds of cancer patients.

One of the defining elements of the cancer moonshot is its focus on public-private partnerships. A public-private partnership is a relationship where the government and a private enterprise work together to accomplish a common goal. The cancer moonshot has given rise to some of the most innovative partnerships in history.

Science Partnerships

Scientific partnerships are one of the primary types of public-private partnerships in the Cancer Moonshot. These partnerships focus on enhancing the ability to diagnose and treat individuals by creating scientific breakthroughs.


One of the first partnerships set up was between IBM and the Department of Veterans. The program seeks to bring the power of Watson for Genomics, IBM’s artificial intelligence technology designed specifically for medical and biological work. This partnership is especially important that veterans constitute 3.5% of cancer patients – and a much higher percentage of individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma. This makes them the largest group of cancer patients residing within a single healthcare system.

Watson for Genomics will provide advanced treatment options by cross referencing sequencing data with existing medical literature in databases. It will provide a list of mutations that are likely to cause cancer and pair them with possible treatments ranked by the level of evidence for each treatment. This saves a tremendous amount of time. The immediate goal is to provide service for 10,000 veterans over two years. The long term goal is to develop methods and strategies of bringing advanced computing power to bear on the complicated and difficult process of cancer treatment.


Another science and technology based partnership the Cancer Moonshot has inspired is with Microsoft. The software giant is contributing its skills in helping to develop machine learning technologies. One of its teams is focusing on creating new methods for individualized treatments. It seeks to use natural language interfacing and machine learning to rapidly sort, organize and comprehend all available research.

Efforts do not only focus on facilitating research. Another project Microsoft is working on is designed to help oncologists track and evaluate tumors. The program seeks to use a concept called computer vision in order to help doctors accurately map the size and location of tumors so that treatment can be adjusted accordingly.

Finally, Microsoft is also working on developing algorithms which will help scientists understand the different ways that cancer develops. Understanding how a particular cancer develops can be incredibly useful in determining the most effective treatment

Service Partnerships

Not all of the public-private partnerships which are part of the Cancer Moonshot focus on science and technology. Others work to provide assistance to cancer patients and their families in the ways that are intangible but at the same time absolutely vital.

Uber and Lyft

As anyone who has ever been or known a person undergoing cancer treatment, sometimes just finding a way to get to and from an appointment can be an incredible challenge. In fact, access to reliable transportation is a significant barrier to many people seeking treatment. Access to scheduled treatment is essential to providing the highest possible success level for cancer therapies. Furthermore, other studies have shown this problem is especially prevalent among non-whites and those with lower incomes.

Given all of that, ride sharing companies Uber and Lyft have been working with the federal government to develop programs which will provide free or reduced rides to individuals in need. While more work needs to be done in this area, these steps hope to go far in making sure that patients can make it to their doctor and treatment appointments. If they prove successful they could pave the way for other programs to go even further in making sure people can make their appointments.


The vice president’s recent report also discusses a partnership with a group known as CancerBase. The group is a collection of scientists, patients, and social media volunteers. It seeks to provide the essential and basic information about cancer and how it spreads through the body that many people do not have access to. One major innovation is the ability for users to connect to the service through social media services like Facebook.

Another key aspect about CancerBase is that they offer services anonymously. This is important because it offers patients a safe and secure environment to get information that they may be afraid to seek in other settings. Furthermore, CancerBase allows users to contribute data anonymously. Establishing trust in identity protection may encourage more cancer patients to contribute data that can be useful to scientists and researchers.

Public-Private Partnerships Going Forward

Only the future will tell what sort of public-private partnerships will come next in the fight against cancer. Some organizations are working to help raise funds, and there has been discussion of setting up a series of milestones with cash prizes to further incentivize researchers.

Hopefully by combining the different strengths of the federal government and private entities we can bring ourselves closer to a future without cancer.