Roxanne Nelson

June 08, 2016

CHICAGO — The cancer moonshot may be one step closer to its launch, and Vice President Joe Biden wants the oncology community to play an active role in its mission.

Speaking here at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2016 Annual Meeting, the vice president implored oncologists and other medical professionals attending the meeting to join the quest to put the brakes on cancer once and for all.

"The whole world is looking to you," Vice President Biden said. "Your success can literally change the world. We need you now more than we ever have."

"No one knows the problem or the potential solutions better than all of you assembled here today," he said.

Joking that the moonshot is "the only bipartisan thing left in America," Vice President Biden said that "this is a moment we have to seize."

This isn't the first time that the vice president has spoken directly to the oncology community. In April, he addressed cancer researchers at the American Association for Cancer Research 2016 Annual Meeting, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

At the ASCO meeting, he addressed oncologists and related healthcare practitioners, and emphasized the need for increased collaboration and a willingness to share data.

"No single oncologist or cancer researcher can find the answer on his or her own," Vice President Biden said. "The good news is, today, oncologists and cancer researchers realize they can't do it alone."

The ambitious moonshot initiative was first announced during President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address, and Vice President Biden, who recently lost his oldest son to brain cancer, was put in charge of "mission control" during the remaining months of the administration.

The announcement stirred up quite a bit of controversy, but the administration subsequently moved forward, with the president asking Congress for $1 billion to send cancer to the moon.

Speeding Progress and Need for Funding

In a press briefing held in advance of the vice president's address, Deborah K. Mayer, PhD, RN, AOCN, FAAN, a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel for the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, noted that "we have reached the tipping point in growth of our scientific understanding of how cancer spreads and develops."

Although new information has improved the ability to diagnose and treat the disease more effectively, "we can accelerate progress so more people can benefit from it."

The function of the Blue Ribbon Panel is to provide expert advice on the vision, proposed scientific goals, and implementation of the moonshot initiative.

It will also consider how to best advance those themes, she noted.

In particular, Dr Mayer pointed out that it currently takes up to 17 years for evidence to be incorporated into clinical practice, and one of the goals is to speed up that process.

"To improve cancer outcomes," she said, "it is essential to identify and test methods for more effectively disseminating and implementing information about new approaches for cancer prevention, risk assessment, screening, prognosis, treatment, and survivorship."

Dr Richard Schilsky

Also speaking at the press briefing was Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FASCO, senior vice president and chief medical officer at ASCO. He highlighted the society's commitment to the initiative.

"We will be submitting more formal ideas and calling on ASCO members for ideas," Dr Schilsky said.

He noted that although it is essential to support and facilitate research, it won't benefit patients unless they are delivered at the point of care.

Another issue is funding. "The moonshot will generate great ideas and great vision, but there is also a call for funding," he said. "The budgets of NIH and NCI have not kept pace with inflation, and there is a call for $800 million for cancer funding."

Data Sharing

During his address, Vice President Biden discussed the new Genomic Data Commons (GDC), a public database for clinical genomic data overseen and funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The GDC, which is designed to facilitate the sharing of information on the sequencing of tumors and response to treatment, will begin with genomic and clinical data for 12,000 patients.

The GDC, a core component of both the moonshot and the president's Precision Medicine Initiative, is being built and managed by the University of Chicago Center for Data Intensive Science, in collaboration with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, which are all under an NCI contract with Leidos Biomedical Research.

Data will be centralized, standardized, and made accessible, and will be drawn from large-scale NCI programs, such as The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and its pediatric equivalent, Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET).

"With the GDC, NCI has made a major commitment to maintaining long-term storage of cancer genomic data and providing researchers with free access to these data," NCI Acting Director Douglas Lowy, MD, said in a statement. "Importantly, the explanatory power of data in the GDC will grow over time as data from more patients are included, and ultimately, the GDC will accelerate our efforts in precision medicine."

Vice President Biden emphasized the importance of pooling patient data, and commended ASCO's CancerLinQ initiative, which has expanded to 58 oncology practices, 39 states, and 1000 clinicians. To date, 750,000 patient records have been collected.

ASCO's goal is to provide comparative data to oncologists to improve the quality and value of care, said ASCO Chief Executive Officer Allen S. Lichter, MD, who also spoke at the press briefing.

"CancerLinQ connects and aggregates real-world data, and promotes and disseminate records so that clinicians can compare care and outcomes against that of their peers to improve care," said Dr Lichter.


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