One Small Step for Research, One Giant Leap for Cancer Patients

May 02, 2016

Attendees at the 2016 Global Conference got an exclusive look at the promise of the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, hearing from leading voices in the medical and biotech fields.

Kathy Hudson, the National Institutes of Health’s deputy director for science, outreach and policy, led a lively discussion among government, academic, industry and nonprofit leaders. To kick off the conversation, Greg Simon, the newly appointed head of the Cancer Moonshot and former executive director of FasterCures, explained the initiative’s urgent mission: to put humans at the center of cancer research, just as President John F. Kennedy put man at the center of the moon landing. The Cancer Moonshot, which U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced in 2015, aims to change how cancer research is funded, expand research opportunities to those who have not had them and decrease disparities in cancer treatments.

Panelist Louis DeGennaro, president and CEO of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, stressed that in order to launch treatments for such a diverse community, stakeholders must put patients at the center of all that they do. Patients cannot continue to be treated merely as clinical trial “subjects.” They should be engaged earlier to increase the participation rate in clinical trials, which is currently 5 percent, DeGennaro said.

Robert Bradway, chairman and CEO of biotech company Amgen, concurred with the importance of having cancer research revolve around patients and he pointed to the progress that regulators and industry have made toward a patient-centric approach.

Another theme in the panel discussion was the importance of removing barriers around data sharing. Anna Barker, a FasterCures fellow and director of the National Biomarker Development Alliance at Arizona State University, said that if the idea is big enough and the infrastructure is built, researchers and scientists will share their data, even if they are not incentivized to do so.

moonshot panel

Anna Barker, Fellow, FasterCures, a Center of the Milken Institute

However, reforming researcher incentives is still critical to achieving the level of data sharing needed for Cancer Moonshot to succeed. One way of incentivizing researchers, which Hudson and others at NIH are considering, is to give them publishing credit for sharing their data and using that shared data. As Isla Garraway, director of research at UCLA’s Department of Urology, put it, the Cancer Moonshot Initiative should help the cancer community change the mindset of researchers to prioritize data sharing for the good of patients over competition.

Indeed, collaboration is key. Government, academia, regulators, patients and others need to work as a team to accelerate basic science discoveries and implement new models of adaptive clinical trials. When various sectors in life sciences come together, they can achieve great things while also seeing an immense return on investment. Bradway and Barker cited as examples the Human Genome Project and the Cancer Genome.

The moment is right for a project as grand as when man first landed on the moon in 1969. Patient communities as well as government leaders are experiencing a great sense of urgency for new cancer treatments. Hudson remarked that President Obama is fond of saying that his administration is now in its fourth quarter and therefore has the clarity and focus to make the necessary policy changes. For patients, there’s no such thing as a good time to receive a cancer diagnosis, but with the state of cancer science and the promise of immunotherapy, now is a great time to be fighting it.