Launched by the Administration in January of this year, the $1 billion Cancer Moonshot initiative aims to achieve ten years worth of progress in cancer research in half that time. Vice President Joe Biden has met with thousands of stakeholders across all sectors, seeking suggestions for how to remove the barriers that are currently blocking progress in science, research, and development.
In a speech to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Vice President Biden laid out a series of policy priorities designed to speed up the development of new cancer treatments and cures, and specifically called for a complete overhaul of the current incentive structure for cancer research to one that is much more closely aligned with the interests of patients.
While the Vice President’s policy proposals included recommendations on changes to everything from clinical trial design to streamlining the National Institutes of Health’s grant making procedures, several of his key priorities focused directly on taking down barriers to sharing research results—including policy priorities at the heart of SPARC’s agenda: incentivizing fast, open sharing of data, and open access to research articles.
Noting that “we should measure progress by improving patient outcomes, not just publications,” the Vice President addressed the need for not only making open access the norm in cancer research, but also rewarding researchers for making their papers openly available.
He continued: “What you propose and how it affects patients, it seems to me, should be the basis of whether you continue to get the grant. And scores of your colleagues — scores — said make publications more readily available.”
“Right now, you work for years to come up with a significant breakthrough, and if you do, you get to publish a paper in one of the top journals,” the Vice President said. “For anyone to get access to that publication, they have to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to subscribe to a single journal. And here’s the kicker—the journal owns the data for a year. Your outfit does this.“
“And by the way, the taxpayers fund $5 billion a year in cancer research every year, but once it’s published, nearly all of that taxpayer-funded research sits behind walls. Tell me how this is moving the process along more rapidly.”
He noted that this process stands in stark contrast to the policy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which requires articles reporting on the research it funds be published in an open-access journal.
“The Gates Foundation funds a billion dollars’ worth of research every year. And their policy is crystal clear: The results have to be free and open to anyone from the minute they are published.”
The Vice President also honed in the need to facilitate—and again, to incentivize—fast, open sharing of research data, calling the concept “essential to advancing the process of cancer research.” He focused particular attention on the need to make data supporting the published results of research immediately openly accessible, so that results can be reproduced and validated.
He also suggested that the government should both reward the validation of scientific studies and make it much easier for researchers to apply for funding specifically to replicate and verify others’ results.
“Verification is at the core of science. Even a lawyer like me knows that. And the way we verify is to replicate. That’s how we ultimately know whether the breakthrough actually works. But replicating published studies is not a very rewarding career move. Very few people get grants to replicate studies. So why do we give grants to people who replicate studies to verify published outcomes? We should incentivize verification.”
Turning these priorities into actionable policies and practices is the key aim of the Cancer Moonshot, and the Vice President reiterated his call for close collaboration—among the private sector, academic institutions, philanthropists, investors—to make them a reality. SPARC, our members, and our colleagues in the global Open Access community are committed to redoubling our efforts, and working with the White House to achieve the goals of the Cancer Moonshot. We’re standing on our feet in the office today, and giving the Vice President a standing ovation for his courage, his leadership, and his willingness to speak out so clearly and so eloquently on the need to cut to the chase, and knock down the barriers to scientific progress once and for all.
But, we are also committed to continuing to ask the larger question: If these practices are so essential to achieving progress in cancer research, why not in diabetes research? Parkinson’s research? Climate change research? Sustainable agriculture? Why not apply them to all other areas of research to fully unlock the power of our collective investment in scientific research, and make huge strides in improving the public good?
It’s within our grasp to do so. And taking the steps that the Vice President has outlined and making them an integral part of a larger Open Science agenda across the United States is a goal worth fighting for.