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Former NIH director on the Cancer Moonshot, a silent epidemic and more on Facts & Faith Fridays

Feb 03, 2023

Collins headshot

On his return visit to VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Facts & Faith Fridays, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., was eager to talk about his current passion projects as acting science advisor to the president, from the Cancer Moonshot to the hepatitis C epidemic. Collins, the former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), commended President Joe Biden’s devotion to improving the prevention and treatment of cancer.

“The good news is that deaths from cancer are falling,” Collins said. “Over the course of the last 25 years, [they] are down almost 30%. But that’s not good enough.” He called the current Moonshot 2.0 goal of reducing cancer deaths by another 50% in the next 30 years “a bold effort, but achievable.”

Collins cited specific initiatives to move this goal forward, including multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests, a strategy to reduce nicotine in cigarettes to encourage tobacco cessation and a focus on building back cancer screenings that took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the webinar featuring a conversation with former NIH director Francis Collins.

He also encouraged community engagement in scientific research, in the form of an NIH research program called “All of Us.” The program seeks to enroll one million Americans for a long-term study to better understand the genetic and environmental factors that influence health.

Collins’ self-described obsession, though, is “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to eliminate a disease that is currently killing 15,000 people in America every year for which we now have a cure, and yet the cure is not getting to the people who need it.”

That disease, hepatitis C, can be treated – at a 97% success rate – with a 12-week oral medication regimen. Untreated, hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.

Following the fireside chat with Collins, Facts & Faith Fridays founders and community leaders Rudene Mercer Haynes, J.D., and Robert A. Winn, M.D., director of Massey, were joined by Cheryl J. Roberts, J.D. and Natalie Pennywell, MPH, CHES, of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS), to talk about upcoming changes to Virginia Medicaid.

Roberts and Pennywell shared information about Medicaid redeterminations and what actions community members may need to take to ensure their health care is not disrupted. They urged faith leaders to alert their congregations to look out for communications in the mail, to make sure those eligible for Medicaid get and stay covered.

Written by: Annie Harris

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