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Director of OHSU's Knight Cancer Institute advised President Biden on 'moonshot' plan to fight cancer

A Portland doctor who is a leader in cancer research and treatment helped advise the president on the White House's relaunch of the "cancer moonshot."

PORTLAND, Oregon — A prominent Portland doctor known for his expertise in cancer research and treatment advised President Biden on the plan for his just-announced relaunch of the moonshot to end cancer as we know it.  

"We already have our sleeves rolled up and we are ready to work as hard as we possibly can,” said Dr. Brian Druker, director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

Druker is a big name in cancer research: he was influential in the research and development of the drug Gleevec, a successful treatment for acute myeloid leukemia.

The Biden administration's moonshot seeks to cut the U.S. cancer death rate in half or more in the next 25 years. It is a lot to shoot for, but Druker said the science already in place paves the way for even more lifesaving advancements.

“We're just seeing this remarkable renaissance of technology that can be applied to the problems for early detection, for prevention and for treatment of advanced cancers. So, you put all of those together you accelerate progress; I think this is an achievable goal,” said Druker.

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There is a second important goal of helping those with cancer — and their families — manage the difficult experience.

“One of the things I am pleased that the Biden administration is focused on is helping patients navigate that frightening experience. You think the three most fearsome words are ‘you have cancer.' Imagine we can now surround patients with navigation support to help them navigate that experience but also to have the treatments that can make the outcomes better,” said Druker.

Cancer currently kills 600,000 Americans a year, but Dr. Druker sees great hope in new early screening methods that catch cancer more easily. The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute is working with a company that has developed a single blood test which can detect 50 different types of cancer at early stages.

“And think how revolutionary that would be if you could go to your doctor once a year and have a blood test to screen you for cancer, said the cancer institute director. “And that democratizes the ability, the availability, accessibility because it makes it so simple.”

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The moonshot includes a big emphasis on new effective prevention and treatments options. The HPV vaccine already guards against cervical and head and neck cancer, and Druker said mRNA vaccines like those used against COVID-19 can now be applied to cancer.

There is more within the cancer moonshot that Biden said will “end cancer as we know it.” 

That is the Knight Cancer Institute's goal all along, and Dr. Druker said they are happy to share it with the Biden administration.

“We are quite pleased that they've taken our tag line to ‘end cancer as we know it’, and we're in this fight together.” 

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