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NIH, Pharma Orgs Launch $215M Precision Medicine, Cancer Project

A new precision medicine collaboration will bring leading pharmaceutical companies together to develop additional biomarkers to target cancer therapies.

Precision medicine and pharma collaborators

Source: Thinkstock

By Jennifer Bresnick

- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has partnered with 11 biopharmaceutical companies to launch a five-year, public-private research collaboration focused on enhancing precision medicine approaches to cancer care.

The $215 million Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT) program springs from the national Cancer Moonshot initiative.  Participants will work to identify, validate, and develop biomarkers that may lead to innovative immunotherapy treatments for a wide variety of cancers.

“This new public-private partnership is a significant step forward in the battle against cancer and a real boost to the potential of immunotherapy,” said Acting Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan. “We are excited for this partnership, which will strengthen efforts already underway across HHS.”

Personalized immunotherapy is a promising treatment avenue for rare or hard-to-treat cancers, but providers and researchers currently operate with an incomplete understanding of how to optimally target treatment regimens to every unique individual.

“We have seen dramatic responses from immunotherapy, often eradicating cancer completely for some cancer patients,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. 

READ MORE: Precision Medicine Research a Top Strategic Priority for NIH

“We need to bring that kind of success — and hope — for 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.”

PACT will bring together leaders in the field to collaborate on systematic and uniform research into biomarkers that identify which patients will respond best to which combinations of drugs. 

The participants will extend their research into the clinical trial environment to ensure rigorous review of potential innovations.

“A scientific and organizational challenge this complex cannot be addressed effectively by any one organization acting alone,” said Maria C. Freire, PhD, President and Executive Director of the Foundation of the National Institutes of Health, which is overseeing the project.

“Instead, it requires the energies and resources of public and private partners working in close collaboration.”   

READ MORE: How Precision Medicine Will Shift from Research to Clinical Care

The coordinated approach will allow organizations to generate and share data consistently, creating an environment in which it is easier to replicate trial results, compare data across disparate studies, and ensure a high degree of quality across all investigators.

Many well-known biopharmaceutical companies have joined the collaboration, including AbbVie, Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma GmbH & Co. KG, Bristol-Myers SquibbCelgene Corporation, Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, and Pfizer, Inc.

“Given the significant unmet needs that exist in oncology, it’s critical we work together to drive clinical research and development of innovative therapies that can ultimately make an impact on the lives of people around the world affected by cancer,” said Tom Hudson MD, Vice President of Oncology Discovery and Early Development, AbbVie.

“AbbVie applauds the efforts being made to drive forward innovation in oncology and we recognize that tackling the toughest challenges today is going to take all of us – scientists, physicians, industry peers, patient groups and most importantly patients.”

Each pharma stakeholder will contribute financially to the initiative, as well.  The partners will contribute up to $1 million a year for the five-year duration of the collaboration, bringing the private sector investment to $55 million. 

READ MORE: Precision Medicine Must Be a “Team Effort,” White House Says

“The PACT collaboration brings together leading researchers from the NCI and the pharmaceutical industry to overcome central obstacles to optimizing the power of immuno-oncology therapies – high variability in the use of biomarker assays that can determine which patients may be best treated with which drug or combination,” said Axel Hoos, MD, PhD, Co-chair of the PACT project and Senior Vice President of Oncology R&D at GlaxoSmithKline.

“By harmonizing the way we use biomarker tools, we believe we can reduce data heterogeneity and accelerate development of immunotherapies. We look forward to working alongside the members of PACT to drive progress for the research community and bring the right medicines to the right patients.”

The NIH will add $160 million in funding over the length of the collaboration, assuming the organization continues to have the funds available for appropriation.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI), which operates under the NIH, will also oversee portions of the project.  The NCI’s four Cancer Immune Monitoring and Analysis Centers (CIMACs) and a Cancer Immunologic Data Commons (CIDC) will provide a network of laboratories that will support pediatric and adult precision medicine trials.

The CIDC will serve as the data hub for the laboratory data, genomic information, and analytics functions required by PACT members.

“NCI’s long-term support for basic and translational research in immunotherapy paved the way for the recent dramatic clinical successes in this area,” said Douglas R. Lowy, MD, Acting Director of NCI.

“This partnership, and the data the partners have committed to making publicly accessible to the broader research community, will facilitate our continued progress in helping to find the cancer treatments that benefit the greatest number of patients.”

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