Blue-Ribbon Panel Advises NCI on Cancer 'Moonshot'

Zosia Chustecka

April 07, 2016

More details on the US-government-led "cancer moonshot" emerged this week, and among them is the creation of a blue-ribbon panel of 28 experts that will advise the National Cancer Institute (NCI) on how to allocate resources.

The new cancer moonshot, announced in January by President Obama and now headed by Vice President Joe Bidden, aims to "galvanize research efforts against cancer," explain two experts.

Douglas R. Lowy, MD, from the NCI, and Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), both in Bethesda, Maryland, outlined details of the project this week in a perspectives article published online April 4 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The initiative will aim to accelerate progress toward the next generation of interventions that we hope will substantially reduce cancer incidence and dramatically improve patient outcomes," the two experts write.

It will address two overarching priorities, they explain: increasing the resources devoted to fighting cancer, and breaking down silos to unite the cancer-fighting community.

Increased Funding, and How to Spend it

On the issue of resources, the experts note that an additional $680 million has been earmarked in the proposed fiscal-year 2017 budget for the NIH, plus additional resources for the US Food and Drug Administration.

How these extra resources should be allocated is now under discussion with the newly created blue-ribbon panel of experts, and a research plan will be announced by late summer, say the two experts. "Some possible opportunities include vaccine development, early-detection technology, single-cell genomic analysis, immunotherapy, a focus on pediatric cancer, and enhanced data sharing," they add.

Dr Lowy and Dr Collins say the blue-ribbon panel "will tap into the expertise of scientists, oncologists, patient advocates, philanthropists, and representatives of the pharmaceutical and biotech industries to focus on emerging frontiers in the understanding and treatment of cancers."

Among members of the panel are Patrick Soon-Shiong, MD, founder and CEO of NantWorks, who has previously announced his own vision for a cancer moonshot; Mikael Dolsten, MD, PhD, president of Pfizer Worldwide Research and Development and executive vice president of Pfizer; James Allison, PhD, professor and chair of immunology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston; James Downing, MD,president and CEO of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee; Maria Elena Martinez, PhD, professor of family medicine and public health, reducing cancer disparities program, at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center; and Charles Sawyers, MD, chair of the human oncology and pathogenesis program at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in New York City.

One idea that is under discussion is the establishment of an Exceptional Opportunities in Cancer Research Fund to support the pursuit of new ideas addressing currently intractable problems in cancer research. This would allow the NCI to "respond quickly to leverage novel insights in any area of oncology that's ripe for expansion — from basic science through translational approaches to clinical trials. Such an investment would help to ensure that our country's most creative scientists have the necessary resources to pursue investigations that may lead to breakthroughs," Dr Lowy and Dr Collins write.

Overcoming Barriers

"A second goal of the initiative will be to overcome barriers that often prevent collaboration and information sharing among the various groups working to defeat cancer and that limit access to state-of-the-art research," the two experts write.

The federal government may seek ways to facilitate data sharing among researchers who are currently reluctant.

They note that the NCI's Cancer Genomic Data Commons and Cancer Genomics Cloud Pilots are both examining new methods to facilitate sharing of data, novel algorithms, software, tools, and annotations, and they provide ways of measuring the impact of such sharing.

The duo are hopeful that technology innovations will break down some of barriers, but they also issue a stark warning: "The federal government may seek ways to facilitate data sharing among researchers who are currently reluctant to disseminate their data and results."

The experts are full of optimism for the project. While they acknowledge that the initiative is still a work in progress, they declare that they "expect these efforts to build a firm foundation for the development of better means of prevention, treatment, and cure for all types of cancer."

Dr Lowy and Dr Collins have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

N Engl J Med. Published online April 4, 2016. Abstract


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