I received a few items recently on the “cancer moonshot” front, and over the course of 2016 we’ve directly and indirectly addressed the Cancer Moonshot program—launched in January by President Barack Obama and headed by Vice President Joe Biden—a number of times. So, rather than pontificate this month, I’m going to share these updates.
First we have the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC), which shared recently a number of resources its members are involved in efforts that support the recommendations released in September by the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel. Being a largely clinically oriented group and this being a magazine that focuses mostly on drug discovery and development, I won’t go into all of them. But there was one that caught my eye because it was related to the panel recommendation for the establishment of a cancer immunotherapy clinical trials network devoted exclusively to discovering and evaluating immunotherapy approaches.
Specifically, ACCC established the Institute for Clinical Immuno-Oncology to empower multidisciplinary cancer care teams to advance implementation of immuno-oncology in the community by providing comprehensive resources and tools. ACCC further noted that in a video available at www.accc-cancer.org/about/Innovators-2016-Sanford-Cancer-Center.asp, Sanford Cancer Center shares how its program, which serves rural communities, has successfully expanded access to immunotherapy and to immunotherapy clinical trials.
As ACCC President Jennie R. Crews noted recently, “To date, much of the Cancer Moonshot focus has been on research and academic medicine. However, to reach many of its goals, the Cancer Moonshot team needs to engage with community oncology, where the majority of cancer care is delivered. This is where ACCC members come in. We are a collaborative organization with diverse, multidisciplinary representation from the cancer community.”
Second, in late September, The Economist magazine held a forum in Boston called the “War on Cancer: Scaling Progress” that asked, among other things: When it comes to the current fight against cancer, how does one define and determine progress? As the magazine notes, today’s “War on Cancer” is also about addressing high drug prices, ensuring access to critical, new therapies and making preventative and diagnostic advances a common reality.
Some of the items they tackled:
- How can big pharma work collaboratively with disruptive startups to operate at a more competitive cost and with stronger scalability?
- How does value-based pricing compare with accountable care, comparative effectiveness research, evidence-based medicine and other industry initiatives to improve the cost-to-value ratio of cancer drugs?
- How does the value and cost of immuno-therapy compare with that of treatments such as chemotherapy or surgery, and what is its potential impact on the overall cure rate for cancer?
- What can be learned from oncologists and pioneering genomic researchers from outside the United States working with sparse budgets?
Finally, outside of the U.S. government’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, we have another “moonshot” effort that came to my attention, the Pediatric Cancer MoonShot 2020 consortium, which noted recently that NantHealth, the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine (CSSIOMM) and other members of the consortium have launched the Pediatric Brain Tumor Atlas project, a new pediatric sequencing discovery project focused on studying childhood brain tumors. CSSIOMM is providing $20 million in funding for the study that is expected to require six months to complete. The various partners will carry out about 4,800 whole-genome RNA analyses for 1,600 children diagnosed with brain tumors, and the data that come out of that will be made publicly available.
“There is tremendous lack of progress in the treatment of brain tumors in children, which makes this such an important project,” noted Lennie Sender, executive director of the Cancer MoonShot 2020 Pediatric, Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer effort.
I expect we’ll be seeing a lot of “aiming for the moon” on cancer-fighting efforts in the years to come, and we’ll keep you posted as best we can.