Who owns 'moonshot'? MD Anderson says it does in suit against biotech billionaire Soon-Shiong

For years, the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center has used the Cancer Moonshot tagline without any challengers. That is, until two separate programs with similar names came along earlier this year.

The prestigious institute in Houston is suing (PDF) biotech billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and his businesses over their use of the “moonshot” tag for a new program that launched back in January. In rolling out “Cancer Moonshot 2020," NantHealth “willfully, intentionally, and/or knowingly infringed or otherwise violated the trademark,” MD Anderson claims.

MD Anderson set up a website and established the “Cancer Moonshots” logo in 2012, according to the suit; the moniker has grown to be of “significant value," MD Anderson says.

Now, the cancer center wants profits, plus damages, attorney fees, and other costs related to the alleged infringement. The center also wants all materials that use the term to be destroyed.

MD Anderson’s research efforts include an “ambitious and comprehensive action plan to make a giant leap for patients,” according to the center. Both NantHealth and a separate moonshot program unveiled by White House officials make similarly large claims, but MD Anderson doesn’t name the government’s program in its suit.

One reason for that could be that NantHealth’s business “contacts with Texas are substantial, continuous, and systematic because it regularly conducts and solicits business within the state,” according to the suit.

Soon-Shiong’s Cancer Moonshot 2020 program brought confusion when it was first announced as a collaboration with the NIH, FDA and White House, according to The Cancer Letter. But federal officials quickly responded that the programs are distinct from one another. Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a program with nearly the same name at nearly the same time. 

In response, Soon-Shiong’s final announcement touted the program as a collaboration between big biopharma companies, academia, oncologists and others.