UT MD Anderson cancer moon shots take flight during Year 1

Diverse fleet of flagship projects launched against 8 cancers; APOLLO powers new patient care and research insights with nimble access to big data

MD Anderson News Release 10/18/13

A year after its launch, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Moon Shots Program propels innovative approaches to cancer prevention and treatment fueled by exceptionally broad collaborations and underpinned by state-of-the-art resources.

“Six moon shots targeting eight types of cancer forged ahead in the past year with new efforts in prevention, family cancer risk assessment, treatment resistance research and innovative clinical trials, just to name a few,” said MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D. “In these earliest days of the moon shots, we already see a trajectory for truly meaningful progress in the years to come.”

“Our moon shots will combine MD Anderson’s deep clinical and research expertise with the infrastructure and tools to make substantial inroads against cancer, and improve survival and quality of life for patients everywhere,” he said.  “This ambitious quest is becoming a reality, and we’re off to a very solid start.”

Individual moon shots initiate new approaches

Moon shots for specific cancers have launched a variety of “flagship” programs and others are in development. While all of these will examine new paths to treatment, projects in prevention and family risk assessment efforts also are under way. 

  • Melanoma Moon Shot physicians and behavioral scientists served as clinical and scientific resources for legislators as part of a broad coalition interested in a ban on tanning bed use by teenagers under the age of 18. The move is expected to significantly reduce skin cancer risk as the use of tanning beds before age 18 increases a person’s risk of melanoma by 85 percent. This year, Texas became the fifth of six states to enact such a ban, which took effect Sept. 1.
  • The Breast and Ovarian Cancer Moon Shot offers genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 to all women with triple-negative breast cancer or high-grade serous ovarian cancer.  It combines the test with outreach to family members that includes counseling, screening and prevention for relatives who might be at high risk for either cancer. A personalized surgical approach for patients with high-grade serous ovarian cancer also has been launched
  • Myelodysplastic Syndromes/Acute Myeloid Leukemia Moon Shot is conducting research to understand how resistance to an important class of drugs called hypomethylating agents develops in MDS and how it might be overcome.
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Moon Shot will soon open a 200-patient clinical trial to test the promising experimental drug ibrutinib with or without the existing antibody rituximab to further understand the way both drugs work against CLL.  This trial also will evaluate how CLL cells behaved and changed before and after treatment.
  • Lung Cancer Moon Shot has launched its Genomic Marker-Guided Therapy Initiative (GEMINI) to extend groundbreaking MD Anderson research in targeted therapy that will identify new targets and drugs to hit them for more effective, personalized therapy.
  • Prostate Moon Shot investigators have identified a subset of patients with treatable prostate cancers who are candidates for a “curative intent” study.  So far 40 men have been treated in a targeted therapy clinical trial.

Impactful philanthropy ignites moon shots

The Moon Shots Program has received a number of impactful private philanthropic commitments. The remarkable accomplishment of this milestone within the program’s first year underscores the generosity of MD Anderson supporters and their confidence in this accelerated effort to conquer cancer.

“Two absolutely crucial factors allow us to even think about driving innovation through the program,” DePinho said. “One, our plans rest on the bedrock foundation of more than 70 years of patient care and research excellence at MD Anderson, and two, they couldn’t occur without the generous and mindful financial support of donors and organizations.”

Major gift commitments include:

  • Lyda Hill, $50 million
  • Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, $10 million
  • Marathon Oil Corporation,  $3 million
  • Cullen Trust for Health Care,  $2 million
  • Bosarge Family Foundation, $2 million
  • Mr. and Mrs. William J. Kyte, $2 million
  • The John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial  Foundation, $1.5 million

“We profoundly thank those who have invested their resources and their trust in the Moon Shots Program. We’re intensely dedicated to rewarding their inspiring confidence with major advances on behalf of cancer patients and survivors, and ultimately to prevent these diseases outright,” DePinho said.

Platforms underpin new efforts

MD Anderson also has added a number of platforms – expertise, infrastructure and technology – to not only enhance the efforts of the moon shots but also serve the entire institution. New platforms include:

  • Big data storage and analytic capabilities via Oracle technology
  • Immunotherapy, an up-and-coming field capable of striking many cancers
  • Cancer prevention and control, supporting prevention, early detection, public policy and public outreach
  • Proteomics, development and validation of biomarkers to guide treatment decisions
  • Drug development and co-clinical trials through the Institute for Applied Cancer Science

APOLLO: Learning from patients to help patients

A pilot project is under way for a new system that combines data from 1 million past and current patients with a massive library of institutional cancer research into a huge, secure database, and then applies cutting edge big data analytics to pluck new insights from the resulting ocean of information.

APOLLO, also known as Adaptive Patient-Oriented Longitudinal Learning & Optimization, includes capacity for analyzing tumor genomics during a patient’s treatment. It’s also allied with the world’s smartest computer to create MD Anderson’s Oncology Expert Advisor™ powered by IBM Watson. (See related news release).

Physicians will be able to connect with the database and analytics through mobile applications on, tablets and other devices.

MD Anderson’s Leukemia department, the largest practice in the country, known for its quality of care, clinical trials and treatment innovation, is the pilot project for APOLLO, a path-breaking reorientation of data flow and analysis to bring the best information to bear on a patient’s cancer.

“APOLLO finds knowledge now hidden in a vast amount of information to help us optimize care of our patients, speed new discoveries and, this is important, democratize cancer treatment by making the program widely available,” said Hagop Kantarjian, M.D., chair and professor in Leukemia.  
The system enables continued learning from both clinical care and research to enable the practice of science-driven genomic medicine.

“APOLLO allows us to learn from our patients to help other patients,” said program leader Lynda Chin, M.D., chair of Genomic Medicine and scientific director of the Institute for Applied Cancer Science. “Everything we do in the Moon Shots Program is about the patient.”