Expert panel advises Cancer Moonshot initiative, with focus on networking

A blue-ribbon panel of cancer experts has weighed in on the U.S.’s “Cancer Moonshot” initiative, recommending to the National Cancer Advisory Board potential focus areas and collaboration efforts that could help propel cancer research forward.

Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama announced the “Cancer Moonshot” in January this year as a means to “accelerate our understanding of cancer and its prevention, early detection, treatment and cure.” One of the main objectives has been to foster communication between research institutions and oncologists, providing financial support over the course of a 5-year plan.

Dinah Singer of the National Cancer Institute, Tyler Jacks from MIT and Elizabeth Jaffee from Johns Hopkins published a report summarizing the panel’s conclusions in the journal Science.

The panel narrowed its recommendations down to 10, though each had far-reaching implications. Overall, the goal was to find areas that would benefit most from the support of the Moonshot initiative. More than 150 experts provided input.

Among the recommendations was the establishment of a patient engagement network to collect data and ensure that patients and clinicians alike would have greater access. Others included a network to bolster enrollment in clinical trials, a wider screening effort for patients with colorectal or endometrial cancer, and further research into tumor development that would create what the panel called a “Tumor Atlas.”

Many of the recommendations placed value on a greater network of professionals, bringing together data and tools that already exist but that aren’t yet being used to their potential. The panel suggested the creation of a Cancer Data Ecosystem that would be available to researchers, clinicians and patients, according to the report, and would help coordinate efforts in a way that hasn’t been done before.

The NCI intends to begin implementation and funding in the middle of next year, but the full development of the program would depend on future approval from Congress.

The authors write in Science: “Although the BRP recommendations clarify what efforts might lead to transformative changes with new funding, these will not come at the expense of traditional funding expectations. Many ideas the BRP received are being and will continue to be pursued through the NCI’s standard research funding process.”

A few hurdles lie ahead for the Moonshot task force, led by Biden, including policy issues with regards to medical coverage and reimbursement, data sharing, screening procedures and national research standards, among others.

“Excitement about the Cancer Moonshot process is balanced by a commitment to the value of basic research, population studies, technology development, and traditional approaches,” the authors write, “all of which are essential if we are to continue making progress.”