WASHINGTON — The Department of Energy says it may have found a fast way to find new tactics for treating cancer:
The powerful technology, based at 17 national laboratories around the country, will be the department’s contribution to Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer initiative, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz wrote in a Medium post Wednesday. The goal: find patterns in the data on cancer patients to understand the disease better, and accelerate the search for new treatments.
“Supercomputers are key to the Cancer Moonshot,” Moniz wrote, because they can “greatly accelerate the development of cancer therapies by finding patterns in massive data sets too large for human analysis.”
The announcement came ahead of a Wednesday meeting of Biden’s cancer task force, which is coordinating the efforts of federal departments and agencies that will have a hand in his bid to double the rate of progress against cancer over the next five years.
The agencies are preparing for the national summit Biden will host for the cancer initiative on June 29, when researchers, cancer survivors, federal officials, and others will gather in Washington to build momentum for the effort. Biden made clear on Wednesday that he wants to set, and reach, concrete goals.
“We are determined that by the end of this administration, this will not be characterized as, ‘There was another effort.’ We’re determined to say we made specific progress, [so that] the next administration is in a better position to be able to continue moving us down the road,” Biden said.
“None of us view this as a one-term effort,” Biden added. “We’re trying to get $1 billion this year. There’s no reason we shouldn’t try to get $2 billion the following [year], $5 billion after that.”
Supercomputers can help the effort, Moniz wrote in his post: “The challenge is not a lack of relevant data — we have more than ever before. The challenge is accessing that data, and processing it to find patterns that tell us something about what causes cancer, or how to fight it more effectively.”
Supercomputers, he wrote, are “excellent tools for analyzing genomic and molecular data sets, patient records, family histories and other complex information related to cancer.”
Moniz also noted that supercomputers have already been used in another groundbreaking medical research project: the mapping of the human genome.
“We have much to gain in the fight against cancer if we bring our full technological capabilities and expertise to the table,” he wrote.
This story has been updated to include comments from Biden.