Obama’s New Cancer Initiative Could Use A Shot Of Silicon Valley Innovation

Silicon Valley should have a stake in the U.S. government’s moonshot initiative to cure cancer. President Obama announced this initiative in his last State of the Union address Tuesday night, placing Joe Biden in charge of “Mission Control” for the effort.

Biden started reaching out to hundreds of the world’s top cancer experts since his son passed away from brain cancer in May, according to a Medium post. Biden plans to involve both the public and the private sector in this quest; hopefully those plans also include some of the breakthrough technology coming out of Silicon Valley.

From Google[x]’s cancer-seeking nanopills to Atomwise, a machine-learning platform working on finding the cure to orphan diseases, the Bay Area offers several startups and organizations coming at the problem in a different way.

The science, data, and research results are trapped in silos, preventing faster progress and greater reach to patients. Joe Biden
Incubators such as Y Combinator, IndieBio and Breakout Labs include numerous promising startups in the cancer research space as well. Y Combinator started recruiting in the biotech space over a year ago and has since launched startups such as Ixchtel and Notable Labs, which focus on the effects of certain drugs on cancer cells.

“The science, data, and research results are trapped in silos, preventing faster progress and greater reach to patients,” Biden wrote in his post.

There are plenty of startups based in Silicon Valley (and beyond) that provide research and information which could combine in a powerful way to further understand the disease and how to tackle it. Y Combinator has backed several software-based startups such as Benchling and Transcriptic helping to run experiments, store and analyze large amounts of information that can be shared on the platform.

Much good research and technology is also coming out of Boston and San Diego in the biotech space. And there’s already cross-country collaboration happening here. Redwood City-based Guardant Health joined forces with New York-based Flatiron Health last summer in the race for the cure.

Guardant uses a commercially available blood cancer screening product, Guardant360 to collect data from patients. Flatiron, a cloud-based platform that aggregates data from cancer treatment centers around the world, pledged to offer the structure and all of the clinical trial information for a database used to store and analyze the information.

Many larger health tech companies sprang out of the Bay Area to help in this endeavor as well. 23andMe helps people discover their genetic roots. It recently gained FDA approval to deliver scientifically validated reports about genetic health – and while it does not currently offer information on certain cancers, it has the potential to do so on a massive scale.

Google, Inc., now Alphabet, introduced the Baseline study in 2014 to genomically map 175 healthy human individuals in order to understand the baseline for perfect health. That study will connect with a much larger study in conjunction with Duke and Stanford’s medical schools.

Government is often slow to progress, as are the institutions it supports. Silicon Valley is used to moving fast and has the mindset to approach problems a different way. It could be just what the U.S. needs to move forward in this endeavor.

Will any of these tech companies take part in the new White House initiative? I’ve reached out to Biden’s team to see if the VP plans on including some of San Francisco’s offerings but have yet to hear back.

“For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all,” Obama said in Tuesday’s SOTU address.

The cure for cancer is not a far way, impossible goal. It is right at our fingertips and likely a matter of hooking up larger U.S. government institutions with the innovation already happening in America’s tech center. Hopefully, those working on this new moonshot cancer initiative recognize Silicon Valley’s potential to help in this endeavor.