The nation's largest cancer center is launching a massive "moonshot" effort against eight specific forms of the disease, similar to the all-out push for space exploration 50 years ago.
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston expects to spend as much as $3 billion on the project over the next 10 years and already has "tens of millions" of dollars in gifts to jump start it now, said its president, Dr. Ronald DePinho.
One of the cancers is myelodysplastic syndrome. "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts has that kind and had a bone marrow transplant to treat it on Thursday. The others are especially deadly forms of breast and ovarian cancer, along with lung, prostate, melanoma and two types of leukemia.
The project aims to find cures and lower deaths. Although no overall benchmarks have been set, individual projects for various cancers have specific goals.
With genetic information and more precise drugs, "we have many of the tools we need to pick the fight of the 21st century" and find ways to defeat these cancers, DePinho said.
Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, which has no role in the project, praised DePinho's effort.
"I'm thrilled to see somebody take the lead," Brawley said. "The results that I see him promising, in my mind are reasonable," both in terms of raising money and fighting cancer.
Cancer death rates have been falling since the 1990s at an average of more than 1 percent per year but the disease remains a top killer worldwide. In the United States this year, estimates are that more than 1.5 million people will be diagnosed with cancer, and more than 500,000 will die from it.
The MD Anderson program was inspired by the goal President John F. Kennedy announced in 1962 to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade. He described it to Congress that May and in a speech in September at Rice University, a mile from MD Anderson.
The Houston cancer center treats 112,000 patients a year and has been building a database of tumor samples and their genetic characteristics, especially of breast and ovarian cancers.