MD Anderson launches $3 billion "Cancer Moon Shot" program on anniversary of JFK "moon shot" speech

MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas is today launching the Moon Shots Program, "an unprecedented effort to dramatically accelerate the pace of converting scientific discoveries into clinical advances that reduce cancer deaths." The program is backed by billions of dollars in funding, and there is some controversy around the money and the science. The program will initially target eight cancers, and will bring together sizable multidisciplinary groups of MD Anderson researchers and clinicians to mount comprehensive attacks on acute myeloid leukemia/myelodysplastic syndrome; chronic lymphocytic leukemia; melanoma; lung cancer; prostate cancer, and triple-negative breast and ovarian cancers - two cancers linked at the molecular level.



  1. Well, i wish them luck, but something like this was tried back in the Nixon years, with the founding of the National Cancer Institute. The feeling back then was that the pattern of nuclear physics, 20 years of basic research that suddenly erupted into new useful inventions, could be replicated in medicine. We have made great strides, but not quite what was promised back in the 60s.  i remember hearing people say back then  that cancer was caused by a virus, but then they realized they had no idea what a virus was. We now feel that it is a wide variety of very similar diseases that may not succumb to any conceivable magic bullet.

  2. My favorite sister-in-law’s triple-negative breast cancer is back in multiple locations, so I’m especially pleased to see this news. Our depth of knowledge of the biology of cancer has grown so much, it’s a good time for another focused effort like this.

  3. It’s hard to think of a number in billions that I think would be too much to spend on cancer research, so obviously this is good news. And while the grant process is never perfect, I trust that most of the money is going to find its way to people who can do some good with it.

    But man, does the “moon shot” analogy bother me. I mean, yeah, the Apollo program was a hell of a thing, but it was a totally different animal. The unknown unknowns were very few, and there’s only one moon, and you either land on it or you don’t.

    This would be like trying to land on a hundred different moons, including some in other solar systems, some at the bottom of the ocean, and some in nearby parallel universes. And even that would just be semantics, except when we don’t get a Neil Armstrong moment, it’s going to have repercussions I think we’d consider fairly negative. (Specifically, the next round of grantors is going to say, “Pfff, you want a billion dollars to cure cancer? We tried that, remember? Swing and a miss. Cancer’s incurable.”)

    I know, I know, I’m making too much of the branding. The important thing is that we’ll almost certainly get some good stuff out of this. But science is socially constructed, yo! Never more so than when it comes to the next pot of money.

  4. Minor, minor nit-pick by a native Houstonian – the MD Anderson cancer center is part of the UT system, but it’s not “at” UT in Austin.

    It’s in the Houston Medical Center.

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