In 2015, cancer caused 28.3% of total deaths in Taiwan, making it the main cause of death, while in the US cancer claimed over 590,000 lives in 2014. In September, 2016, two flagship research institutes in Taiwan, Academia Sinica and National Chang Gung University, joined the Cancer Moonshot initiative that was established by the Obama administration to search for ways to combat cancer. By signing a memorandum of understanding with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute, the two Taiwanese institutions will work alongside institutions from Canada, South Korea, Japan, China, Switzerland, Germany, and the United States.
Despite recent advances in biotechnology and other medical fields, cancer continues to serve as the leading cause of death in most developed countries. The Cancer Moonshot initiative was proposed by President Obama, and Vice President Biden was appointed to lead the effort to find a cure for cancer by 2030. To achieve the goal, the White House envisions a $1 billion overall budget for the initiative, and in February Congress appropriated $195 million for the NIH for Fiscal Year 2016. With its healthcare system ranked third in medical practices in the world and first in Asia, Taiwan seeks to engage rigorously and contribute to the efforts of the initiative by collaborating with a variety of world-leading research institutions across the US, such as the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. According to representatives from Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s national biomedical database, collection of pathology samples, and medical technologies make Taiwan an indispensable partner in advancing with cancer research and treatment.
The Cancer Moonshot initiative is not the first occasion in which Taiwan and the US have collaborated on medical research and disease control. Amid the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in mid-2015, Taiwan and the US held a workshop aiming to promote public health awareness and diagnose the highly contagious disease. Taiwanese academics and researchers have also participated actively in efforts to combat diseases, such as the USAID sponsored initiative, Combating Zika and Future Threats: A Grand Challenge for Development.
Other Asian states are also important partners to the US on the medical and pathological front. The US-Japan Cooperative Medical Sciences Program (CMSP) provides Japanese and American scientists a platform for collaborations on medical research and treatments. Australia’s Flinders University and the University of California at Irvine have recently formulated a potential vaccine for Alzheimer’s, also through a joint research initiative.
Chien-Chou “Antonio” Liao is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a Recent Graduate of the American University School of International Service.