“May you live in interesting times.”
It’s a saying that intends to convey despair upon those living in times of tumult. And with the Affordable Care Act, the decline in federal support for research and the acceleration of age-associated cancer incidence, these are challenging times in health care. But given our knowledge of cancer and game-changing technologies, it’s also an era of unprecedented opportunity to bend the arc of the disease and bring true hope for the first time in history.
These scientific advances offer the real solutions to our national health care dilemma: prevent cancer from occurring in the first place; detect it early when the chance for cure is greatest (and less expensive); and apply curative therapies for advanced disease in a precise and personalized manner. As the nation's premier cancer center, we have the solemn responsibility to increase the effectiveness of care and reduce the costs of providing such care.
At the same time, MD Anderson is a rare institution with a critical mass of talent and resources that can drive a field toward new models of care delivery and research, which can alter the natural history of the disease itself.
I have often stated that “today, the one constant is the element of change,” and thus we must heed Darwin’s comment that survival depends not on intelligence or fitness, but on the ability to adapt.
We’re ready. With strategic planning underway, we’re looking 10 years ahead and beyond. This past summer, more than 40 faculty and administrative leaders gathered to begin developing a bold, patient-oriented blueprint for the future. During that process, it was determined that investing our time, effort and resources in three critical areas will position us to have the biggest impact on one goal: ending cancer.
Those areas, which we call our Strategic Framework, are:
Innovative Clinical Care
Bringing medicine, science and technology together to develop customized treatments in the most caring and compassionate way possible. We seek to create a seamless patient experience that maximizes new technology but remains people-focused.
Expansion of Our Network and Knowledge
Continued growth, leading to a true global network that will allow us to share knowledge, improve the world’s standard of care and, in turn, learn from a much broader patient population.
Transformative, Sustainable and Accountable Research
Fueled by the insights of multidisciplinary teams, our unprecedented research will be transformational. It will be sustainable and fueled through unique sources of revenue. We will be accountable. Our strong research portfolio and clear performance expectations will drive impactful results.
Additionally, in the fall of 2012, MD Anderson launched the Moon Shots Program with the goal of saving as many lives as possible, as quickly as possible. Over the past several months, our world-class clinicians and researchers have proven to be up to the task, helping us rapidly build momentum toward significantly reducing the impact of the eight cancers we chose to initially target. Our ultimate goal is for all cancers to become moon shots.
During our first-year progress report event this past October, we shared details of our tremendous strides in prevention, detection and treatment. Watch the press conference at MoonShotsProgress.
Here are a few details on how far our world-class moon shot teams have come in such a short time:
Melanoma Moon Shot
Advancements in prevention and early detection play a crucial role in creating a future without the burden of cancer, and one achievement I’m particularly proud of is MD Anderson’s role in the Texas Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 329.
The legislation, which took effect Sept. 1, 2013, bans the use of tanning beds for anyone under the age of 18. Success involved partnerships with several other health advocacy organizations in the state to achieve the shared goal that will directly translate into lives saved. Coordinating through our Governmental Relations office, MD Anderson served as the primary scientific and clinical information resource for the bill. We're now working with other states to do the same.
Breast and Ovarian Cancers Moon Shot
Women with triple-negative breast cancer or high-grade serous ovarian cancer have a higher likelihood of mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. We’re offering genetic testing for these aberrations to all patients with these cancers, which will help physicians tailor a more personalized therapy for them. Testing will direct patients to therapy specific to these mutations. In addition, counseling, screening and prevention are being offered to family members who are at risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) Moon Shot
Research is being conducted to understand how resistance to an important class of drugs called hypomethylating agents develops in MDS and how we can overcome it. These drugs target DNA and kill the rapidly dividing cells without harming healthy ones.
We've also created the world’s first genetically engineered mouse model for MDS, identified new genes altered in AML and launched the development of therapies targeting these alterations. And we’ve created two new classes of drugs that will soon enter clinical trials for AML under the leadership of our Institute for Applied Cancer Science.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) Moon Shot
Jan Burger, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in Leukemia, is leading a 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
With the launch of the Genomic Marker-Guided Therapy Initiative, we’re extending groundbreaking MD Anderson research in targeted therapy for more effective, personalized treatment. Another team, spearheaded by Samir Hanash, M.D., Ph.D., professor in Clinical Cancer Prevention, has identified a promising panel of blood markers for the early detection of lung cancer and is initiating pivotal validation studies and diagnostic development efforts.
Prostate Cancer Moon Shot
With deep knowledge of the circuitry of prostate cancer, investigators have identified combination therapies to attack the disease’s addiction to androgens. For the first time in the history of the field, Christopher Logothetis, M.D., chair of Genitourinary Medical Oncology and director of the David H. Koch Center for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers, and his team have launched “curative intent” trials with the goal of eradicating disease in a significant fraction of men with advanced prostate cancer. Wasting no time, the team already has enlisted scores of men in this targeted therapy clinical trial.
Moon Shots Program Platforms
To aid the moon shots — and the entire institution’s cancer-fighting efforts — we’ve developed a number of “platforms”: expertise, infrastructure and technology that bring together the best attributes of academia’s scholarship and industry’s execution to ensure that discoveries are systematically driven toward application for patient benefit.
We created the APOLLO (Adaptive Patient-Oriented Longitudinal Learning and Optimization) program, which combines more than 1 million patients’ medical histories and data, research data and clinical knowledge to help determine the best treatment decisions for each patient.
Cutting-edge analytics technology is necessary to make this possible. In this arena, Lynda Chin, M.D., chair of Genomic Medicine, Andrew Futreal, Ph.D., professor in Genomic Medicine, and our Leukemia department are developing MD Anderson’s Oncology Expert Advisor™ (OEA), powered by IBM Watson. The OEA is a very powerful and useful analytical tool that can rank potential treatment options based on up-to-date evidence and learn from MD Anderson experts such as Hagop Kantarjian, M.D., the nation's top leukemia doctor.
We’re also seeing success using the body's immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapy represents one of the most promising advances in cancer today, and MD Anderson is the leader. The immunotherapy platform supports investigators’ work to modify immune cells so they attack and kill cancer, and make the body immune to recurrence. It’s already a standard of care for metastatic melanoma at MD Anderson, and exciting results are emerging for a number of cancer types.
We’ve set our sights high. Our ambitions are lofty. But the expertise and commitment of our people give us confidence.
People such as James Allison, Ph.D., chair of Immunology, whose groundbreaking research is removing cancer’s ability to evade the immune system.
And Helen Piwnica-Worms, Ph.D., whose pioneering research in cell division has been turned into clinical advances. She was named vice provost for science and is overseeing preclinical and basic science research, as well as serving as a professor in Cancer Biology. She and Waun Ki Hong, M.D., head of Cancer Medicine, were elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. MD Anderson was the only institution in the country with two inductees into this prestigious academy.
You’ll read about more of our extraordinary people in these pages.
Our future is full of promise. With our open minds, our caring hearts and our determined spirit, we’re excited to embrace today’s opportunities, seek out these new frontiers and eventually defeat cancer. We live in interesting times indeed.
Ronald A. DePinho, M.D.