In the closing keynote, Dr. Ned Sharpless, Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), addressed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer prevention, diagnosis, care, and research, and shared more about NCI’s latest work. He celebrated the steady budget increases to NCI since 2015 which reflect the broad bipartisan support for cancer research, and the support from President Biden.
Despite sustained investments in cancer, the pandemic gravely impacted cancer screening, care, and treatment. Dr. Sharpless identified the disruption the pandemic caused to cancer care, sharing that NCI estimated the US would experience increases in cancer mortality over just a few years due to the disruption in care.
In response to the pandemic, NCI took part in a series of projects, including embracing innovative and popular solutions like telehealth to ensure patients could enroll in clinical trials and producing a report addressing vaccine hesitancy. NCI also partnered with the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to direct public attention to cancer screening to counteract the disruption in screening caused by the pandemic.
Finally, Dr. Sharpless highlighted what he called a national epidemic of cancer survivors that will result from cancer interventions like the Cancer Moonshot. While these interventions will save lives, survivors will nevertheless be left with survivorship challenges. He stressed the need for survivorship research, confirmed NCI’s growing interest in survivorship and discussed the accomplishments of the NCI’s Office of Cancer Survivorship. In response to this focus on survivorship, NCI has continued investing in survivorship grants, which have increased exponentially in the last 20 years.