President Barack Obama’s announcement of a Cancer Moonshot Initiative, led by Vice President Joe Biden, took me back to 1969 and a summer camp mess hall, where I watched Neil Armstrong take those famous first steps on the moon. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy said the United States would put a man on the moon—and a mere seven years later, we did.

President Kennedy’s challenge inspired scientists and engineers to work together as never before. From global positioning systems to artificial hearts, we are still benefiting from the innovations that flowed from this work.

The challenge ahead

We have cured many cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma, testicular cancer and various other solid tumors, but this is not enough. We must cure them all and ensure that cancer survivors lead healthy and productive lives. This is the only way an initiative like the Cancer Moonshot will truly succeed.

“Already, we are seeing solutions which allow cancer providers to improve the quality and value of care by analyzing millions of cancer patient medical records...”

The successes that followed the 1969 moon landing came through a robust research enterprise. The Cancer Moonshot Initiative also needs such a system, but funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute has eroded over the past decade. If we are going to achieve the goals of the Moonshot, Congress must support cancer researchers and entice the best young minds to enter the field.

What we will need

While Congress appropriated an increase of NIH funding this last year, it is insufficient. We need to catch up and keep up, so that cancer researchers can continue their important work and we can accelerate our progress.

We also need a better health information technology infrastructure to transform cancer care and improve patient outcomes. Already, we are seeing solutions which allow cancer providers to improve the quality and value of care by analyzing millions of cancer patient medical records and transform that learning into more effective care. Vice President Biden recently made a passionate call for teamwork, the kind that culminated in Armstrong’s “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” That is the driving force needed to make the Cancer Moonshot a reality and the entire nation must stand together to answer this call.