On September 7, a Blue Ribbon Panel — composed of 28 top cancer researchers, oncologists, patient advocates and leaders from the private sector — issued 10 recommendations aimed at speeding up advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care. The panel was created as part of the Cancer Moonshot first announced in January of this year. Final recommendations for specific initiatives to be funded by Congress are expected in early 2017, although specific funding has yet to be allocated for any of the Moonshot projects.
The panel’s specific recommendations include:
- Establish a network for direct patient involvement in cancer research. Such a network would provide patients with a genetic profile of their own cancer and enable them to “pre-register” for appropriate clinical trials.
- Create a clinical trials network devoted exclusively to immunotherapy. We have written extensively on the potential of cancer immunotherapy and what needs to be done to advance this field, including studies of immunotherapy combinations and combinations of immunotherapeutics with targeted treatments. Such a network could greatly advance research in this area and more quickly identify the best strategies for use of these promising agents.
On September 16, Vice President Biden added to the Panel’s recommendations to improve clinical trials. In addition to calling for new ways to simplify the process for patients to find and enroll in clinical trials, he called for incentivizing new ways of designing trials that maximized participation while reducing the burden and risk faced by trial participants and for increased transparency in clinical trials and the reporting of results.
- Develop ways to overcome drug resistance or prevent its development. The recommendation focuses on the establishment of multi-disciplinary research teams focused on the resistance problem.
- Build a national cancer data ecosystem that links many of the largest data repositories. The aim is increased data-sharing via a single, free access point for researchers, doctors and patients.
- Intensify research on the major drivers of childhood cancers, particularly fusion oncoproteins.
- Minimize cancer treatments’ debilitating side-effects.
- Boost efforts aimed at cancer prevention and early detection. This includes additional support for further reducing tobacco use and increasing colorectal cancer screening and HPV vaccination, as well as increased testing for hereditary cancer syndromes in people with certain types of cancers.
- Mine past patient data to predict future patient outcomes. Analyzing existing banked tumor tissue from patients receiving standard of care may enable the discovery of genetic or other factors that distinguish who may benefit from standard care versus experimental treatments in clinical trials.
- Develop a web-based 3-D cancer atlas of genetic lesions and cellular interactions in tumor, immune and other cells in the tumor environment that maps the evolution of tumors over time. The aim is to enable researchers to develop predictive models of tumor progress and response to treatment that will allow oncologists to make better informed treatment decisions.
- Create public-private partnerships for the development of new tools or to refine promising technologies that improve the treatment or detection of cancer.
It is clear that the panel has recognized that providing shared access to data — from the past, present and future — will be a key to advancing our understanding of cancers as well as our ability to better diagnose and treat these diseases.