October 29, 2015
Expanding the moon shots mission
BY Scott Merville
MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program has expanded its targets, adding some of the most intractable cancers to its campaign to more rapidly convert scientific discoveries into life-saving advances.
The innovative program’s transdisciplinary team-science approach and transformative professional platforms now pursue meaningful progress against B-cell lymphoma, glioblastoma (brain cancer), HPV associated cancers (caused by the human papilloma virus), high-risk multiple myeloma, colorectal and pancreatic cancers.
These join the original moon shots launched in 2013 to address breast/ovarian cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, lung cancer, melanoma, myelodysplastic syndrome/acute myeloid leukemia and prostate cancer.
“Our multidisciplinary, goal-oriented moon shots programs, enabled by the deep expertise and advanced technology of our execution-oriented platforms, are poised to accelerate declines in mortality for some of the most common types of cancer,” says MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D. “After the first two years, we’re transitioning from the foundational phase to the results phase, and some moon shots already are making practice-changing advances in the clinic and in cancer prevention and control.”
Leaders: Michael Wang, M.D., professor of Lymphoma/Myeloma and Richard Champlin, M.D., professor and chair of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy About 80,000 new cases of this group of blood cancers are diagnosed annually.
The cure rate is 30%. This moon shot will focus on overcoming resistant disease by developing new predictive tools, finding new targets for therapy and using new immunotherapy drugs, targeted therapies and engineered immune system T cells to attack these lymphomas.
Leaders: Scott Kopetz, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of GI Medical Oncology; Stanley Hamilton, M.D., division head of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; and Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and head of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences
This cancer is the second-leading cause of U.S. cancer-related deaths — 49,700 in 2015. Projects focus on improving early detection and prevention as well as testing personalized treatment with immunotherapies before surgery. Another program builds on leadership by MD Anderson investigators to classify colorectal cancers by subtype based on integrated molecular and genomic analysis to improve targeted treatment.
Leaders: Robert Wolff, M.D., chair ad interim of GI Medical Oncology; Jason Fleming, M.D., professor of Surgical Oncology; and Anirban Maitra, M.B.B.S., professor of Pathology
An estimated 49,000 people receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis each year, and only about 6% of patients survive five years. This moon shot focuses on early detection methods, development of predictive biomarkers to guide presurgical targeted therapy and testing of new immune T cell-based therapies.
HIGH-RISK MULTIPLE MYELOMA
Leaders: Robert Orlowski, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Lymphoma/Myeloma; Donald Berry, Ph.D., professor of Biostatistics; and Richard Eric Davis, M.D., associate professor of Lymphoma/Myeloma Patients with high-risk disease make up about 20% of the estimated 27,000 people expected to receive a diagnosis in 2015.
While new drug combinations and blood stem-cell transplants have improved survival for patients, prospects for those with high-risk disease have lagged. This moon shot will work to develop risk-prediction models and immunotherapeutic approaches to hit high-risk disease at earlier stages and to treat advanced disease.
Leaders: Amy Heimberger, M.D., professor of Neurosurgery; Frederick Lang, M.D., professor of Neurosurgery; and John de Groot, M.D., associate professor of Neuro- Oncology
Of the 15,000 people who receive a diagnosis of this most lethal brain cancer, only 5-10% survive to five years.This moon shot will examine existing and experimental immunotherapy drugs and customized T cells designed to attack specific targets. Other projects include further development of an engineered, cancer-killing virus (see page 20) and identification of new targeted therapies.
HUMAN PAPILLOMAVIRUS-RELATED CANCERS
Leaders: Erich Sturgis, M.D., professor of Head and Neck Surgery; Bonnie Glisson, M.D., professor of Thoracic/Head & Neck Medical Oncology; Lois Ramondetta, M.D., professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine; Cathy Eng, M.D., professor of GI Medical Oncology; and Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., associate professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine
An estimated 17,500 women and 9,300 men yearly develop a cancer caused by this sexually transmitted virus. One moon shot goal is to boost HPV adolescent vaccination rates to 80% to prevent cervical, throat, anal and other cancers. Other projects extend cervical cancer screening to women in medically underserved communities, seek to develop HPV-related cancer screening for men and aim to more fully characterize HPV-related tumors across multiple disease sites to develop targeted drugs and immunotherapies.
Building on early achievements
Early results include development of an algorithm to guide the decision on whether to start a woman’s ovarian cancer treatment with chemotherapy or surgery that is being adopted by other cancer centers nationally and internationally; cancer prevention educational efforts that supported new Texas laws banning the use of tanning beds and electronic cigarettes by minors; and collaborations with pharmaceutical companies to move new first-in-class drugs to clinical trials more quickly.
All 12 moon shots opened or have planned many novel clinical trials of new immunotherapies — drugs that activate the immune system to attack tumors — as well as targeted therapies and drug combinations precisely targeting cancer-specific genetic abnormalities.
In the longer term, collaboration with moon shots platforms and basic scientists will heighten understanding of the molecular details of cancers, treatments and how the two interact.
Read the full release on MD Anderson’s website.
That one of the nation’s largest cancer centers has found a way to fund large projects based on new knowledge and good science is very hopeful for cancer. No other center is doing anything like this.
Otis Brawley, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer, American Cancer Society