5 years in, the Moon Shots Program is primed for continued progress
Discoveries are being turned into patient care, thanks to a unique infrastructure and team-science approach
It’s been five years since MD Anderson launched its Moon Shots Program™, a collaborative effort to more quickly turn scientific discoveries into clinical advances that save patients’ lives.
Established 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 $453.5 million.
“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,” says 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®.”
First inspired by MD Anderson’s fourth full-time president Ronald DePinho, M.D., the program established focused, multidisciplinary teams of clinicians and researchers to forge 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 that 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.
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 members of MD Anderson’s 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,” says 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, is now being tested in 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. IACS is advancing multiple novel drugs toward the clinic, with five new compounds expected to enter clinical trials in 2018.
- 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 addressing this unmet need in lung cancer patients. (Read more on "A failed drug is showing unprecedented success against a previously impervious mutation")
- The Melanoma Moon Shot™ has opened clinical trials to evaluate pre-surgical treatment for high-risk melanoma patients who otherwise would undergo surgery. Pre-surgical therapy is a standard practice in other cancers, such as breast, but previously wasn’t feasible in melanoma because of a lack of active therapies. These trials will advance insights into the best approaches to treating patients after surgery. Additionally, using moon shots platforms, deep analyses of patient samples from these trials are being carried out to better understand why treatments work for some, but not all melanoma patients, and guide new trial development.