2 MD Anderson experts named to National Cancer Moonshot advisory panel

Two cancer experts at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have been named to a blue ribbon panel to advise the National Cancer Institute in its work with Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot.

Jim Allison, Ph.D., professor and chair of Immunology and executive director of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program immunotherapy platform, and W.K. Alfred Yung, M.D., professor of Neuro-Oncology and member of the Glioblastoma Moon Shot team, were named to the panel announced today by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

The 28-member group will provide scientific guidance through recommendations to the presidentially appointed National Cancer Advisory Board.  President Obama announced the National Cancer Moonshot during his State of the Union speech on Jan. 12, appointing Biden to lead the task force, and later revealing a $1 billion initiative aimed at achieving a decade’s worth of advances against cancer in five years.

“It’s an honor to serve on the Blue Ribbon Panel for this important effort and to contribute to its focus on the growing field of cancer immunotherapy,” Allison said.  “Our experience establishing the immunotherapy platform and connecting it with our Moon Shots Program also will provide useful perspective for this effort.”

Allison invented immune checkpoint blockade – freeing the immune system to attack cancer by disrupting a brake that halts immune response.  He came to MD Anderson in 2012, establishing the immunotherapy platform to advance translational and clinical research progress in the field and leading the institution’s basic research efforts in immunology.

Yung is an expert in clinical research and treatment of glioblastoma multiforme, the most lethal form of brain tumor.  Yung has been a leader in glioblastoma investigations by The Cancer Genome Atlas, a joint effort by the NCI and the National Human Genome Research Institute to characterize the genetic variations behind cancer. He was senior author on a recent TCGA paper in the New England Journal of Medicine identifying molecular differences between various forms of gliomas that could guide diagnosis and treatment.

“I look forward to contributing to this focused initiative to improve how we treat glioblastoma and other difficult cancers,” Yung said. “We have a responsibility to the patients we serve to make a collective and significant impact in our fight to end cancer.”

MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, launched in fall of 2012, consists of 10 platforms and dozens of multi-disciplinary flagship projects focused on advancing knowledge of cancer prevention, early detection and treatment to accelerate declines in cancer mortality. More than 2,000 MD Anderson faculty and staff are involved in the program focusing on lung, prostate, breast/ovarian, colorectal and pancreatic cancers, melanoma, glioblastoma, human papillomavirus-related cancers, B-cell lymphomas, multiple myeloma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome/acute myeloid leukemia.

According to the NCI, the panel will consider how to best advance the themes proposed for the National Moonshot Initiative, including the development of:

  • cancer vaccines
  • highly sensitive approaches to early detection
  • advances in immunotherapy and combination therapies
  • single cell genomic profiling of cancer cells and cells in the tumor microenvironment
  • enhanced data sharing
  • new approaches to the treatment of pediatric cancers

“We are honored to have two of our very best cancer scholars serving our country on this important panel,” said Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “Vice President Biden’s focus on cancer has inspired collaboration across our nation and will help in Making Cancer History.”