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What does the future look like for cancer research and patient care? 

Cancer Moonshot, the American Association for Cancer Research, and IDT priorities combine to set the stage for meaningful cancer breakthroughs
What does the future look like for cancer research and patient care?  hero image

During a press conference at the White House February 22, 2022, President Joe Biden announced a plan to reignite the Cancer Moonshot, as a “presidential, White House-priority”. For most Americans, the Cancer Moonshot program may have become a distant memory given all that has transpired in our world since its formation. The same cannot be said of those tasked with seeing the program’s objectives to completion, including a global community of oncology scientists, researchers, and biotechnology organizations, including IDT.   

When did the Cancer Moonshot program start? 

The Cancer Moonshot program—named after President John F. Kennedy’s speech that launched the U.S. into the race to space with the Soviet Union—was initially established by the Obama administration on January 14, 2016, to unite the world in the fight against cancer, signifying the same commitment to discovery and propelling a movement forward as that of the space mission. Led by then Vice President Joe Biden, Cancer Moonshot set out to accelerate scientific discovery in cancer, foster collaboration, and improve data sharing among researchers. 

In one of what has been said to be among the few recent truly bipartisan efforts in the United States Congress, congressional members validated their support for the Cancer Moonshot by passing the 21st Century Cures Act, securing a $1.8 billion investment across seven fiscal years to fund critical cancer research. The law also streamlined the FDA’s ability to make informed decisions on cancer-related concerns through the formation of the Oncology Center of Excellence, working to speed up effective treatments and offer patients direct access to information about the regulatory process. 

Reigniting Cancer Moonshot initiative 

The goals of the revitalized Cancer Moonshot Initiative are inspiring, but according to the Biden-Harris administration, it is an admittedly “all hands-on-deck approach” to achieve success.  

Among the new priorities are two primary program pillars: reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% in the next 25 years and improve the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer—with the ultimate hope to end cancer as we know it today. 

To accomplish these ambitious goals, the Biden-Harris administration has identified several supporting sub-priorities, including: 

  • Increase access to existing screening services and develop new technologies to screen for additional types of cancer 

  • Identify ways to prevent cancer, potentially applying the same mRNA technology used with COVID-19 vaccines to prevent the development of cancer cells 

  • Reduce inequities around prevention, detection, and treatment programs 

  • Provide personalized treatment plans 

  • Accelerate investigation into the deadliest cancers, including childhood cancers 

  • Help patients, caregivers, and survivors with the medical, financial, and emotional challenges on their journey from diagnosis to survivorship 

  • Involve patients in data sharing to expand our learnings 

To date, significant progress has been made, including the creation of 70 new consortiums or programs, that have collectively fueled 240 research projects, including: improving immunotherapy, advancing childhood cancer research, tumor mapping, cancer prevention and detection programs, patient support initiatives, drug resistance, data sharing, and collaboration. However, cancer is still the #2 cause of death in America. 

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer  

As with most aspects of our daily lives, cancer research was also disrupted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. One study predicts the impact to be significant, but not fully quantifiable. Yet, the study identified several key concerns: 

  • Decreases in early screening procedures 

  • Modified treatment plans, such as increased time between treatments, for cancer patients 

  • Delayed, postponed, or cancelled cancer research projects 

  • Diminished referrals clinical trial participants 

  • Increased number of patients diagnosed with inoperable or metastatic cancers 

Additionally, the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2022 recorded 1.9 million projected new cancer cases and 609,000 new deaths in the United States. If current trends continue, they predict the global cancer burden will reach 28 million new cancer cases and 16.2 million deaths annually by 2040. 

American Association for Cancer Research reports on impact of COVID-19

Given these substantial concerns and overarching impact, the AACR completed a study of its own, recently publishing the AACR Report on the Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer Research and Patient Care. A few key takeaways include: 

  • From January 2020 to July 2020 an estimated 10 million cancer screenings were missed 

  • Since the start of the pandemic in late 2019, one in six Americans has been diagnosed with cancer and nearly 1 million American lives have been lost to the disease 

  • 95% reduction in biopsies during the height of the pandemic  

  • There were also marked negative impact on the pipeline for early-career investigators (ECIs), including students (undergraduate, graduate, medical), postdoctoral fellows or medical residents, and junior faculty 

  • Decades of cancer research positioned the world’s scientist to pivot and apply prior learnings to the development of the mRNA SARS-CoV-2 vaccine 

2022 AACR Conference takeaways 

These findings fueled the subject matter for the 2022 AACR conference’s (April 8-13) core pillars: early detection and interception, targeted therapies, immune-oncology, and healthcare disparities. For attendees, including IDT’s Mirna Jarosz, Director of Global Market Development & Marketing, the connection between Cancer Moonshot and AACR’s initiatives was clear: "The Cancer Moonshot initiative will play a crucial role in getting us over the finish line quickly so that as many patients as possible can start accessing the benefits of the exciting research breakthroughs we've been hearing about at AACR for the last few years." 

There are many exciting possibilities on the horizon, such as new ways to improve T-cell infiltration into solid tumors, using mutation patterns to improve the effectiveness of immuno-therapy treatments, applying NGS computational principles to develop personalized medication regimes to hinder a tumor’s ability to develop resistance, and new cell therapies leveraging CRISPR technologies to target resistant tumors.  

How will technology change the way we approach early-stage cancer diagnostics? “The burden of accuracy is high when one proposes to screen healthy patients, not to mention the needle-in-a-haystack challenges of sensitivity. Technology development can play a role. For example, error reduction techniques like molecular barcoding” noted Mirna.  

More good news—whether your research remains in the discovery phase or progresses toward new diagnostics and therapeutics, IDT is here for the long haul. Stay tuned for exciting new updates as we continue to expand our product and service offerings to help you achieve the next breakthrough! 

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