MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program celebrates five-year anniversary

Novel therapies highlight program achievements, unique model primed for ongoing progress in saving patient lives

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center celebrates the five-year anniversary of its Moon Shots Program™, a collaborative effort to accelerate the development of scientific discoveries into clinical advances that save patients’ lives. Launched in the fall of 2012, the program already has yielded notable discoveries across the spectrum of cancer care, including prevention, early detection and treatment, and has inspired philanthropic support totaling more than $451 million.

“With its unique infrastructure and team-science approach, the Moon Shots Program is well-positioned to continue translating discoveries into the patient care setting for many years to come,” said Marshall E. Hicks, M.D., president ad interim. “We have only begun to realize the successes of the program.”

First inspired by MD Anderson’s fourth full-time president Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., the program established focused, multidisciplinary teams of clinicians and researchers tasked with developing comprehensive approaches to improving the lives of patients and reducing cancer mortality. Each component of the program undergoes regular internal and external peer-review to prioritize and direct ongoing efforts, focusing on those most likely to have significant, rapid impact for patients.

Beginning with six Moon Shots™, the program was expanded in 2015 for a total of 13 disease-focused initiatives. The Moon Shots Program also established 10 platforms, which provide unique expertise, technical support and novel infrastructure to support the program’s team science approach and accelerate the translation of data and discoveries for patients’ benefit. Philanthropic funding goes directly to support these areas of priority research and program infrastructure.

MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program also served as an inspiration for the national Cancer Moonshot, which works toward the same goal, combining innovation and collaboration to make therapies available to more patients on a national scale. Two MD Anderson faculty serve on the Blue Ribbon Advisory panel to the national Cancer Moonshot, providing guidance and recommendations to the national effort.

Novel therapeutic approaches highlight program achievements

“Our singular vision of improving patient care has catalyzed our teams toward novel discoveries that, quite simply, would not have occurred without such focus,” said Giulio Draetta, M.D., Ph.D., co-leader of the Moon Shots Program, senior vice president, Discovery and Platforms and chief academic officer ad interim. “In five years, we have made notable advances for patients – most of which would not have been possible without the Moon Shots Program.”

Some of those accomplishments include:

  • The Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS), a Moon Shots platform, has advanced a novel drug from discovery to clinical trials for patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in collaboration with the Myelodysplastic Syndromes and Acute Myeloid Leukemia Moon Shot™. The drug, which disrupts energy production in cancer cells, will soon advance to clinical trials in patients with solid tumors. The entire development pipeline, from laboratory discovery through clinical trials, has been managed exclusively by the Moon Shots Program, which made possible the accelerated translation to the patient care setting in fewer than five years.
  • The Lung Cancer Moon Shot™ has identified and resurrected an abandoned targeted therapy, poziotinib, for treating a rare group of lung cancer patients with specific treatment-resistant mutations. These patients, who previously had no effective treatment options, are seeing significant response rates in current phase II clinical trials. The pre-clinical discovery, testing, and current clinical trials were catalyzed by multidisciplinary efforts and platform support with the goal of meeting this unmet need in lung cancer patients.
  • The Melanoma Moon Shot™ has opened clinical trials to evaluate neoadjuvant, or pre-surgical, treatment for high-risk patients with melanoma who would otherwise undergo surgery. Neoadjuvant therapy is a standard practice in other cancers, such as breast, but this approach was not previously feasible in melanoma due to a lack of active therapies. These trials will advance insights on the best approaches to treating patients after surgery. Additionally, using Moon Shot platforms, deep analyses of patient samples from these trials are being carried out to better understand why treatments do or do not work for all melanoma patients and guide new trial development.

Primed for increasing impact

“We have made great strides in five years, but perhaps the most important achievement is the foundation upon which current and future program discoveries will be made and lives saved,” said Andy Futreal, Ph.D., chair of Genomic Medicine and co-leader of the Moon Shots Program. “With this infrastructure, our tremendous teams of scientists, together with collaborators here and abroad, are learning more each day from the very individuals we remain committed to helping – our patients.”

The research platforms, which work across the Moon Shots, continue to advance therapies to the clinic and evaluate patient data to refine clinical strategies, ensuring patients receive the best care specific to their cancer.

The APOLLO platform is performing large-scale analysis of patient samples over time, generating novel data to better understand how tumors evolve resistance to certain treatments, making cancers more predictable and easier to treat. This platform is harnessing the power of big data and sharing across disciplines to inform better care of patients with all cancer types.

IACS is advancing multiple novel drugs toward the clinic, with the next expected to enter clinical trials in 2018. Additionally, the immunotherapy platform will continue advancing immune-based therapies to make this game-changing treatment available to more patients.

Currently, there are more than 150 clinical studies at MD Anderson that are being accelerated as a result of the Moon Shots Program, investigating both novel drug compounds as well as new approaches to improve the effectiveness of existing drugs.

The Moon Shots Program also is committed to advancing evidence-based cancer prevention and control practices, which have the potential to prevent up to 50 percent of cancers in future generations. The cancer prevention and control platform has established a range of targeted initiatives designed to advance early detection approaches, spread the use of actions known to reduce cancer risk, and improve access to screening and prevention services. Moon Shots experts also have served as educational resources for legislators across the country on policies related to cancer prevention and control.

“The Moon Shots Program is an extraordinary platform for team-based science that has inspired donor support for transformative research that otherwise may not have been funded,” said Peter WT Pisters, M.D., incoming president of MD Anderson. “We have an obligation to lead in cancer prevention and control while working to accelerate improvements in patient outcomes – all of which is possible through the Moon Shots Program and MD Anderson’s commitment to Making Cancer History®.”