The White House on Friday appointed an executive director of its Cancer Moonshot Task Force: Gregory C. Simon, a leukemia survivor with experience in government, nonprofits, and the corporate world.
About three weeks after President Obama announced a massive "moonshot" effort to spur progress toward cancer cures, Vice President Joe Biden convened an intergovernmental task force to coordinate the public aspects of the program. (Encouraging nonprofit and for-profit parties is also part of the mission.) The task force brings together powerful parts of the U.S. government, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, Energy, and Commerce, as well as the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.
Biden, who has a deep personal interest in the mission after the death of his son Beau from brain cancer, chairs the task force; Simon will take on its day-to-day operations.
Simon has a long resume in both government and health care. The 64-year-old was staff director of the Investigations Subcommittees to the House of Representatives’ Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and chief domestic policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore.
Simon's experience out of government may be even more important to this job. Biden himself has written on Medium that, "When it comes to speeding the pace of progress, we’ll clear out the bureaucratic hurdles — and, quite frankly, let science happen."
Simon has mostly worked in the corporate sector since the Clinton years. He founded a consulting service for CEOs, worked as an SVP at Pfizer, and most recently was the CEO of Poliwogg, a company that matches health care startups with investors.
Simon also cofounded a nonprofit called FasterCures, which he led from 2003 to 2009. The goal of the organization, part of the Milken Institute, is to speed up medical progress by bringing together people and organizations working on the same problems—essentially the same M.O. as the Cancer Moonshot Task Force.
Like Biden, Simon also has a personal connection to cancer. According to the White House, he recently has been "successfully treated" for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. "I am fortunate that in my career I have the chance to work with so many dedicated patient advocates, doctors, nurses, scientists, entrepreneurs, and foundations," Simon is quoted in a White Press release as saying.
Simon also wrote a few cheeky blog entries for the Huffington Post in 2013 while CEO of Poliwogg, providing a little sampling of his unfiltered voice. He largely ripped on opponents of loosened investment rules created by the JOBS Act. In the posts, he called opponents "financial elitists" and "self-appointed nannies." It will be interesting to see if he brings the same frank speech to this new job.