In October 2017, MD Anderson celebrated the five-year anniversary of the Moon Shots Program™, a collaborative effort to accelerate the development of scientific discoveries into clinical advances that save patients' lives. Launched in fall 2012, the program has yielded notable discoveries across the spectrum of cancer treatment. Philanthropic support totals more than $452 million.
Conceived by Ron DePinho, M.D., MD Anderson's fourth full-time president, the program established teams of clinicians and researchers tasked with improving the lives of patients and reducing cancer mortality. Each component undergoes internal and external peer review to prioritize and direct efforts, focusing on those most likely to have significant, rapid impact for patients.
Beginning with six Moon Shots™, the program expanded in 2015 for a total of 13 disease-focused initiatives:
- B-cell lymphoma
- Breast cancer
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
- Colorectal cancer
- High-risk multiple myeloma
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers
- Lung cancer
- Myelodysplastic syndromes and actue myeloid leukemia
- Ovarian cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
Ten platforms provide expertise, technical support and infrastructure to support team science and accelerate the translation of data and discoveries for patients' benefit. Philanthropic funding directly supports these areas of priority research and program infrastructure:
- Cancer genomics laboratory
- Translational research accelerator
- Adaptive Patient-Oriented Longitudinal Learning and Optimization (APOLLO)
- Cancer prevention and control
- Center for Co-clinical Trials
- Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS)
- Adoptive cell therapy
- Oncology Research for Biologics and Immunotherapy Translation (ORBIT)
MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program served as an inspiration for the national Cancer Moonshot. Two MD Anderson faculty members - Jim Allison, Ph.D., professor and chair of Immunology and executive director of the Moon Shots Program's immunotherapy platform, and W.K. Alfred Yung, M.D., professor of Neuro-Oncology and member of the Moon Shots Program executive committee - serve on its Blue Ribbon Panel, providing guidance and recommendations to the national effort.
Singular focus yields exciting breakthroughs
"Our singular vision of improving patient care has catalyzed our teams toward novel discoveries that 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.
Among these accomplishments:
- In collaboration with the Myelodysplastic Syndromes and Acute Myeloid Leukemia Moon Shot™, the Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS), a Moon Shots platform, has advanced a drug from discovery to clinical trials for patients with acute myeloid leukemia. The drug disrupts energy production in cancer cells and will advance to clinical trials in patients with solid tumors. The Moon Shots Program has managed the entire development pipeline, from laboratory discovery to clinical trials, enabling 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 Phase II clinical trials. Multidisciplinary efforts and platform support were the catalysts for preclinical discovery, testing and current clinical trials.
- 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 underway to better understand why treatments do or do not work for all melanoma patients and guide new trial development.
"Perhaps the most important achievement is the foundation upon which current and future program discoveries will be made and lives saved," says Andy Futreal, Ph.D., chair of Genomic Medicine and co-leader of the Moon Shots Program. "With this infrastructure, our teams of scientists, with collaborators here and abroad, are learning from the very individuals we remain committed to helping - our patients."
The research platforms continue to advance therapies to the clinic and evaluate patient data to refine clinical strategies, ensuring patients receive the best care.
The APOLLO (Adaptive Patient-Oriented Longitudinal Learning and Optimization) platform is analyzing patient samples over time to better understand how tumors evolve resistance to certain treatments. It's harnessing the power of big data and sharing knowledge across disciplines to inform improved care of patients with all cancer types.
IACS is advancing novel drugs to the clinic, with the next expected to enter clinical trials this year. The immunotherapy platform will continue advancing immune-based therapies to make them available to more patients.
The Moon Shots Program is accelerating more than 150 clinical studies, investigating novel drug compounds as well as new approaches to improve existing drugs' effectiveness.
The Moon Shots Program also is committed to advancing evidence-based cancer prevention and control practices that can potentially prevent up to 50% of cancers in future generations. The Cancer Prevention and Control platform has established a range of targeted initiatives 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 on policies related to cancer prevention and control.
"We have an obligation to lead in cancer prevention and control while working to accelerate improvements in research and patient outcomes — all of which is possible through the Moon Shots Program and MD Anderson's commitment to Making Cancer History," says Peter Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson.