- The Cancer Moonshot has made significant progress since its January launch, bringing together public and private precision medicine organizations in one of the largest concerted efforts to tackle the deadly disease, said Vice President Joe Biden in a report to the President.
Using cutting-edge big data analytics technologies, including artificial intelligence, next-generation genomic testing, and large-scale biobanking, the public and private partners engaged in the effort to eradicate cancer have started to chart a path to success.
“The mission of this Cancer Moonshot is not to start another war on cancer, but to win the one President Nixon declared in 1971,” Biden said in his remarks to President Obama.
“At that time, we didn’t have the army organized, didn’t have the military intelligence to know the enemy well, and therefore didn’t have the comprehensive strategy needed to launch a successful attack — now we do.”
The primary weapon is data, he added, recounting his worldwide travels over the past ten months to meet with cancer patients, drum up support, and learn more about the data siloes that have thus far limited researchers in their efforts to share breakthroughs and build off each other’s work.
“Everywhere I travelled, I was told that data are key, and we have an unprecedented amount and diversity of data being generated daily through genomics, family history records, lifestyle measurements, and treatment outcomes,” said Biden.
“We now have the capability to realize the promise of all of these data because of advances in super computing power. Researchers can analyze enormously complex and large amounts of data to find answers we couldn’t just five years ago.”
Increased collaboration will be critical to build even more momentum and ensure that the healthcare system is working quickly and efficiently towards the Cancer Moonshot’s ultimate goals. A lack of open, interoperable access to healthcare data, including data held within electronic health records, is one of the primary barriers preventing speedier breakthroughs, he added.
A number of public and private organizations are working together to break down and attack this problem, the White House noted in its accompanying fact sheet, by trying to make data more available to researchers across the country.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the FDA have been overseeing the bulk of the federal Precision Medicine Initiative, including the ambitious million-patient cohort that forms the backbone of the project.
But other agencies and departments are contributing their skillsets, as well. The Department of Defense is in the process of digitizing more than 34 million unique pathology samples to create a massive electronic databank for cancer researchers and diagnosticians.
Using artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, the DOD hopes to foster advances in imaging analytics and develop pilots for innovative pathology projects.
The DOD is also establishing a large-scale longitudinal study using data from the Department’s cancer registry and serum repository. More than 250,000 samples from the past 25 years are available for protein signature analysis that may reveal patterns in patients who later develop cancers.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will also join the project to discover potential links between incidences of cancer and environmental factors.
The Cancer Moonshot has also sparked activity in the private sector. Patient advocacy groups including Colon Cancer Prevention in the Neighborhood, the Cancer Support Community, Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City, and Cancer 101 have ramped up outreach and education efforts designed to help oncology patients and their families navigate the care continuum, contribute to clinical trials and other research efforts, and encourage patients to adhere to recommended screening regimens.
Lyft, the ridesharing service, has pledged to expand its patient transportation program to all the markets it serves by the end of the decade. The initiative aims to improve adherence by enabling vulnerable populations to keep their appointments.
Uber will also provide rides to cancer patients in danger of being unable to access care. The company will devote $5 million to engineering solutions for non-emergency medical transportation, and hopes to get the jump on its main competitor by expanding medical rideshare services to its customer base as soon as 2018.
Other organizations are bringing data to the party, or contributing computing resources and funding to enhance the research community’s ability to engage in big data analytics.
The Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium, the Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium, and Seven Bridges announced the availability of CAVATICA, a data analytics platform initially populated with 24 data sets designed to encourage collaborative research on pediatric cancers. The data is interoperable with the Genomic Data Commons and other datasets from the National Institutes of Health, which will enrich the possibilities for innovation.
The Contribute & Change (C2) Cancer Commons is also working to generate cooperation across the research continuum by piloting the Cancer Commons Hub, a biomedical data repository that aims to “more than double” the molecular, clinical, and imaging data available to researchers.
The project is starting off with several high-profile organizations on board, including the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, Johns Hopkins University, NorthShore University HealthSystem, Northwell Health, and University of Chicago.
“I am enthusiastic about what can be accomplished when we are united in this fight,” Biden said. “We have demonstrated what can be achieved and what is possible. We must continue to support the charge, as so much more is left to do to truly improve patient outcomes.”