NIH public-private PACT aims to fire the Cancer Moonshot boosters

National Institutes of Health sign
A new NIH project will focus on biomarkers used in clinical trials.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has enlisted the help of 11 top-tier biopharma companies as it pushes towards the goal of cutting the time it takes to bring new cancer immunotherapies to patients in half.

The agency is putting $160 million into a new five-year partnership it calls the Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT) that will concentrate on identifying and developing biomarkers to help guide the development of new immuno-oncology treatments and make sure trials recruit the best patients.

Biopharma companies are pledging $55 million—$1 million apiece per year over the duration of the project—and include AbbVie, Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Roche’s Genentech unit, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis and Pfizer. The FDA and trade organization PhRMA are also contributing expertise.

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Francis Collins, director of the NIH, said at a press conference that the idea for PACT came two years ago when the agency was determining how best to work with private-sector companies in the context of the Cancer Moonshot, although the foundation for the recent progress made in cancer immunotherapy has been decades in the making.

Cancer immunotherapy is “one of the most exciting areas for development in our lifetime,” he said, achieving dramatic responses, often eradicating cancer completely even for those with far advanced disease that had failed all other therapies.”

Dramatic success has been seen in cancers including melanoma, leukemia and lymphoma and some types of lung and kidney cancer, but even in these “success doesn’t happen for everyone” and there is a raft of other cancers that should be amenable to immuno-oncology—those affecting the pancreas, colon prostate, breast and brain for example—but here the promise of immunotherapy “has yet to be realized.”

A key objective of PACT will be to try to establish why some patients don’t respond to this type of therapy and extend its benefits to “more people and more types of cancers, and we need to do it quickly.   A systematic approach like PACT will help us to achieve success faster.”

The project will systematically test biomarkers in clinical trials to give insights into the mechanisms of response and resistance to cancer immunotherapy, and define a set of standardized biomarkers and assays that can be tested across different cancer types.

It will also “facilitate information sharing by all stakeholders to better coordinate clinical efforts, align investigative approaches, reduce duplication and enable more high-quality trials to be conducted,” said the NIH in a statement.