New Investments, Projects Spur Moonshot Program Forward

By Bio-IT World Staff

June 29, 2016 | The Cancer Moonshot Summit today served as a platform for many announcements from both the public and private sectors on ways to advance the Moonshot’s goals. Vice President Joe Biden hosted the Cancer Moonshot Summit at Howard University in Washington, D.C., while more than 270 other events were held across the country marking today as part of a national day of action to advance the Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

In January, Vice President Biden announced the Cancer Moonshot Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to, “to seize this moment. To accelerate our efforts to progress towards a cure, and to unleash new discoveries and breakthroughs for other deadly diseases,” Biden said in a January Medium post.

Six months in, the Summit is, “a pivot from what we’ve been doing the first few months to what we’ll be doing the rest of the year,” said Greg Simon, executive director of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, in a briefing last night for the media. “This Summit marks the beginning of a new discussion with the private sector, academia, nonprofits, and the government about other things we can do that involve collaborations but also involve system change in the way we approach cancer.”

Among the areas for reform, Simon highlighted the pre-competitive collaboration on the part of drug companies, how the U.S. Patent Office collaborates with FDA, pricing for combination therapies, and the timelines of government grants.

Many of the announcements focused on clinical trials and regulatory issues (See, Cancer Moonshot Summit Announces, Thousands Cancer Genomic Profiles) while others focused on data sharing and the IT infrastructure underlying research programs.

Public Sector Partnerships and Initiatives

Biden announced a strategic computing partnership between the Department of Energy and the National Cancer Institute to accelerate precision oncology. The pair announced three new pilot projects focused on bringing together nearly 100 cancer researchers, care providers, computer scientists, and engineers to apply the nation's most advanced supercomputing capabilities to analyze data from preclinical models in cancer, molecular interaction data for RAS, and cancer surveillance data across four DOE National Laboratories: Argonne, Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Oak Ridge, in conjunction with the NCI Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research. 

DOE also launched a collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to interrogate the veteran records housed within the Million Veteran Program and build a platform to accelerate our understanding of disease detection, progression, prevention, and treatment by combining the rich clinical, environmental, and genomic data. This is a 5-year, renewable commitment with $3.5 million allocated in Fiscal Year 2016.                                         

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced a fast track open to any applicant that aims to cut in half the time it takes to review patent applications in select fields of cancer therapy (in less than 12 months).  The USPTO receives approximately 900 applications annually in the cancer immunotherapy space alone.

Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT) is a new NIH initiative in conjunction with 12 biopharmaceutical companies, research foundations, and philanthropies to fund pre-competitive cancer research and share broadly all data generated for further research. Potential initial focus areas include understanding responses to cancer therapies, clinical trial platforms for combination therapies, predictive modeling approaches, and therapies for rare cancers.

The APOLLO Consortium—Applied Proteogenomics OrganizationaL Learning and Outcomes—brings together The Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to more rapidly identify unique targets and pathways of cancer for detection and intervention.  The Consortium will look at a patient’s genes that may lead to cancer and the expression of these genes in the form of proteins, with potential impact on disease formation and treatment for cancer patients.  Initial collaborative efforts will focus on a cohort of 8,000 lung cancer patients within the nation's two largest healthcare systems and will make data broadly available to the research community. 

Private Sector Investments

Several foundations, societies, and companies pledged funds and investments in cancer research over the next several years. Over 26 groups were included in Summit materials, all committed to increasing their existing investment for cancer research and expanding their work supporting cancer patients.

Harvard Medical and Business Schools, Deloitte, and Sage Bionetworks all announced prize-based challenges to crowd-source advances in cancer research and treatment. Sage launched the Digital Mammography DREAM Challenge. This $1.2 million prize competition will aim to improve the accuracy of digital-image breast cancer detection in order to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs, with cloud computing provided by Amazon Web Services and the IBM Watson Health Cloud.

Data sharing commitments came from several groups as well.

Foundation Medicine announced it was depositing genomic profiles from more than 18,000 unique adult cancer patients into the NCI’s Genomic Data Commons portal. The dataset from the company’s FoundationCORE database includes dozens if not hundreds of cancer types, said Steve Kafka Foundation’s President and COO. DNA is extracted from biopsy tissue and the known cancer genome—about 300 gene drivers of human cancer—is analyzed. The Foundation tests, “identify genomic drivers across all known classes of genomic alterations: base substitutions, insertions, deletions, translocations, copy number alterations,” Kafka explained.

PatientCrossroads and DNAnexus are partnering on the Integrated Data Engagement Analytics (IDEA) platform to facilitate patient-consented sharing of genetic, proteomic, and electronic health records (EHR)/phenotypic data to accelerate disease research.  The program will leverage the rights of patients to request their raw genetic testing files, proteomic data, and electronic medical records and to share this rich data in the IDEA platform for deep analysis.

Intermountain Healthcare, Stanford Cancer Institute, Providence Health & Services, Catholic Health Initiative, Henry Ford Health System, and Syapse joined together to launch OPeN, the Oncology Precision Network. OPeN will share cancer genomics data from its current membership comprising data and physicians across 11 states, 79 hospitals and 800 clinics, and will impact 50,000 new cancer cases per year.

DocGraph plans to create and publicly release comprehensive analyses and data sets describing how Medicare patients travel through the health care system in the years before and immediately after their cancer diagnoses, including data about treating providers, procedures, diagnoses, medications, and survival, likely capturing almost 1 million Medicare cancer patients, as well as more than 10 million specific claim events.  These analyses—based on Medicare claims data released as a result of the Obama Administration’s open data efforts—will reveal important differences in the experience of cancer patients based on factors such as geography, type of treating physicians and providers and treatment pathway.

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