A profound transformation is taking place in the cancer research field. Recent game changers include the identification of molecular pathways driving tumor growth, which provide new targets for drug development. Howard Soule of the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Milken Institute described this approach as the "molecularization" of oncology. In addition to these so-called molecularly targeted therapies, treatments are in development that will allow the immune system to better target and attack cancers.
While we've made great progress in the scientific understanding and development of new treatments for cancer, the clinical trials and regulatory approval system remains a major hurdle to speeding treatments to patients, according to former FDA commission Andy von Eschenbach. Cutting inefficiencies in the system and increasing resources to the FDA will get medical solutions into the hands of patients when they're needed.
Both the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Melanoma Research Alliance see themselves as catalysts by fast forwarding research through nontraditional mechanisms. One key example is their focus on investing in early career investigators, which supports not only the next generation of researchers, but also the next generation of cancer treatments. They also provide support to interdisciplinary teams of researchers to address significant challenges in cancer.
Nonprofit disease foundations like these are traditionally willing to take more risk in support of paradigm-shifting ideas. At the same time, they expect both accountability and early sharing of results, pointed out Debra Black, Co-Founder and Chair, Melanoma Research Alliance. This is the essence of "venture philanthropy."