President Obama, in his 2016 State of the Union Address, called on Vice President Biden to lead a new national “Moonshot” to “eliminate cancer as we know it.” The White House has since announced a billion dollar initiative — inspired by recent successes in the areas of cancer immunotherapy and multi-drug combinations — to jump-start this work.
The goal of this effort is to cut through red tape and facilitate data access and better collaboration — to help make the most of Federal investments, targeted incentives, private sector research and funding efforts and patient engagement initiatives by breaking down research silos and other barriers to progress. In doing so, the initiative aims to generate a decade worth of advances in 5 years, making more and better therapies available to more patients, and improving the early detection of cancer as well as cancer prevention.
One of the keys to this effort is furthering communication and data sharing between cancer researchers and between governmental, academic and private institutions so that it becomes easier to identify the most promising areas of research. The National Immunotherapy Coalition (NIC) is perhaps the first alliance to be announced toward this goal. It brings a group of large biopharma and biotech companies, major academic cancer centers and community oncologists together with Independence Blue Cross, one of the nation’s largest payers and Bank of America, one of the largest self-insured companies in the United States, to accelerate the potential of combination immunotherapies as the next generation standard of care in patients with cancer. Beneficiaries and patients will undergo next-generation molecular sequencing and gain access to over 60 novel and approved molecules to be tested as immunotherapy combinations in 20,000 cancer patients across all tumor types. The coalition is in discussion with other major insurers to offer coverage for whole genome sequencing to continue to grow the patient data needed for this effort.
Collaborative efforts like the NIC are well needed, as we have written previously in our 2014 article, “Immunotherapy: Big Pharma’s Seductive Embrace.” Understanding how different immunotherapies pair up, together and with targeted anticancer agents, will be foundational to the next generation of cancer treatments, just as combination chemotherapy was to cancer treatment in the 1970s. While it remains to be seen how well this group performs, especially as it lacks as yet the participation of the leading cancer immunotherapy firms, we applaud the effort and look forward to hearing how matters proceed.