U.S. experts set research agenda to meet 'Cancer Moonshot' goals

CHICAGO (Reuters) - It will take a major shift in the way cancer research is done in the United States to meet the ambitious goals set out by the U.S. Cancer Moonshot, researchers said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Former Vice President Joe Biden reviews his cancer moonshot binder while participating in a roundtable discussion at the University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine and Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania January 15, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Makela

In a report published in Lancet Oncology, cancer researchers outlined a new model for cancer drug discovery and development focused on increased data sharing and collaboration, as well as a major focus on expanding patient access to clinical trials. The report also focuses on expanding cancer care to underserved groups, including children, minorities and cancer survivors.

It follows an announcement earlier this month in which the Trump administration threw its support behind a public-private partnership with 11 drug companies to advance cancer immunotherapies, a new class of drugs that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

The five-year collaboration is part of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, an Obama administration program led by former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau died of brain cancer. The Cancer Moonshot aims to speed cancer research and make more treatments available to more patients, as well as to improve cancer detection and prevention.

The Lancet Oncology Commission on Future Research Priorities in the USA expands on the work released last year by the Cancer Moonshot’s Blue Ribbon Panel, which set priorities for the initiative.

The Lancet report sets out 13 priority areas, each with measurable goals and targets. The programs are intended to make the best use of the $2 billion in funding from the 21st Century Cures Act, passed in 2016, that is intended to accelerate cancer research.

In its report, the Lancet Oncology Commission stresses the need for studies of cancer drugs and how they perform after they are approved or how they work when used “off label” in indications for which they were not initially studied. Such studies could shed light on which treatments work best in which groups of patients.

To meet these ambitious goals, the commission recommends that researchers take advantage of technological advances, such as big data and genomics, to better understand the changes that take place before cancer begins.

To that end, the commission will develop a pre-cancer atlas to spot small changes in healthy tissue that signal the first signs of cancer, information that could lead to new screening and prevention strategies.

The report also urges the development of databases in which patients can enter their personal information for use by cancer researchers and get linked up with appropriate clinical trials.

Some 1.6 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer and 600,000 die from their disease each year.

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Frances Kerry