A Billionaire’s ‘Cancer Moonshot’ Comes Down to Earth: But Could it Ever Really Fly?

A Billionaire’s ‘Cancer Moonshot’ Comes Down to Earth But Could it Ever Really Fly?

As it turns out, even a billionaire faces tough constraints in the real-world of cancer-focused drug development. A well-intentioned but hyperbolic “cancer moonshot” pursued big achievements but, in reality, has fallen well short of its targets declared by 2020.

Rebecca Robbins, the San Francisco correspondent for STAT informs readers that Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong’s 2016 mission to transform the fight against cancer by 2020 is probably in trouble. Ms. Robbins reminds those that follow these things that the billionaire rounded up a coalition of biotech companies, researchers, physicians and others and committed to enroll 20,000 cancer patients in studies while also developing a success vaccine to treat the disease. How we could commit to this knowing how difficult it can be to even enroll one cancer patient in certain studies, suggests a chasm between vision, mission and realities on the ground.

Mr. Soon-Shiong

A fabulously wealthy man (estimated at nearly $7 billion), he invented the drug Abraxane, known for its efficacy against lung, breast and pancreatic cancer. Although, the drug recently failed in a Phase III pancreatic cancer trial. Abraxane (owned by Celgene now) has approached a $1 billion revenue drug—sales are primarily driven by an increased demand from immune-oncology combinations in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and triple-negative breast cancer.

He has published more than 100 scientific papers and has more than 230 issued patents worldwide on advancements spanning numerous fields in technology and medicine. An eccentric (this author has known scientists that have worked directly for him), and with a history of “splashy pledges” he has truly created an “American Dream” life out of hard work, tenacity and an awe inspiring drive to cure cancer—he truly gets around–even being honored by the pope the same year of his “moon shot” declaration.  

The Realities of Drug Development

But Soon-Shiong isn’t living directly in the trenches of drug development anymore and, of course, the complexities of putting one program together, let a lone a “moon shot” merit a whole separate story. STAT breaks down the initial goals and big promotions versus what is unfolding on the ground. Read about some of these 2016 proclamations and how and what are the results to date—and, in some cases, “sputtering” as the actual targets declared just four years ago were probably not, in all reality, feasible in such a short period of time.

Call to Action: See Ms. Robbins’ STAT article here.