The US President Joe Biden announced in February his intention to reignite his 2016 Cancer Moonshot mission. The White House identified two goals going forward. They hope to reduce the cancer death rate by at least 50% over 25 years, and “improve the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer”. California Life Sciences responded in August with “An Evening with Thought Leaders”, bringing together over 100 industry leaders and oncology experts. Their ambition is to “explore [their] sector’s essential role in ending cancer as we know it”.
Although the reality of the experience and effects of cancer is “harsh”, the team were optimistic. Dr Joseph Alvarnas, vice president of government affairs at City of Hope, stated that “audacious goals” are “absolutely defensible”. The panel agreed that in order to achieve these goals, funding for “therapeutic research and drug development”, as well as “prevention, early detection, and screening” would be essential. Furthermore, they will have to rise to the task of “improving profound health disparities and increasing access”.
Panellist Dr Megan Hall, vice president of medical affairs at GRAIL, suggested that technologies would not be “useful” if they couldn’t be delivered to the “broader population, in particular the underserved, socioeconomically disadvantaged regions”.
“There’s a lot that needs to happen to ensure equitable access for diagnostics and therapeutics across the board”.
Who is keen to get involved?
- Guardant Health “continues to lead the way” by creating “high-sensitivity multi-cancer screening blood tests” to have significantly reduce cancer death rates.
- Earlier in 2022, Guardant Health launched Shield, the company’s first blood-based screening test to detect early-stage colorectal cancer in average risk adults.
- Their technology is also being studied to support its use in a test to screen for high-risk lung cancer.
- Cedars-Sinai is “running in parallel” to meet the same objectives as the Moonshot initiative.
- On effort towards these goals is the “Molecular Twin” programme. This approach “harnesses the power of multiomics, big data, and AI, to discover, develop, and deliver personalised cancer treatment options”.
- Experts create “virtual replicas of patients’ DNA, RNA, and other biomarker information”. This helps to identify the right approach to each person’s experience.
- The goal is to build a database that can be mined to “discover new treatments”.
- Medtronic and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) are collaborating to deliver colorectal cancer screening technologies across “low income and underserved communities” in the US. Through the Medtronic Health Equity Assistance Programme, with support from Amazon Web Services (AWS), this will include the donation of 133 Medtronic GI Genius intelligent endoscopy molecules to 62 facilities.
- A recent commercial platform in the spatial biology field comes from Resolve Biosciences. They are offering a technology designed to “detect as many as 100 genes – even rare genes, down to a single transcript – from a biological sample”.
- This Molecular Cartography approach is “based on single-molecule fluorescent in situ hybridisation (smFISH)”.
- SonAlAsense is working to overcome the challenges of chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapies. Their new, non-invasive platform, sonodynamic therapy (SDT) could “provide a new option” for patients with many cancers.
- SDT utilises SONALA-001, which, when delivered to tumours in excess, “disrupts their heme metabolism”. In SDT, “non-invasive focused ultrasound energy” targets the tumour. It is absorbed by protoporphyrin, which then “transfers the energy to molecular oxygen in the cell”. This produces a “reactive oxygen species that selectively destroys the cancer cells”.
- CAR T-cell therapy is described as a “living treatment”, individually created for each patient “using their own cells”. It exploits the patient’s immune system to target and attacke their cancer.
- It is a proven, FDA-approved treatment for patients with “many different kinds of blood cancers”.
- Earlier in 2022, Kite (a Gilead company) received approval of the first CAR T-cell therapy for second-line large B-cell lymphoma.
- The hope is that as “data mature” CAR T-cell therapy can be used not only to “delay progression” but also as a “potential cure”.
- Multicancer early detection tests, including GRAIL’s Galleri test, are “fundamentally different from existing single-cancer screening approaches. They allow for “simultaneous screening” and, with Galleri, “localisation of multiple cancer types”.
- GRAIL has initiated “what [they] believe is the largest clinical programme in genomic medicine to-date”. This comprises studies that collectively include over 325,000 participants. They are partnering with hundreds of institutions for evidence generation across the world.
- Galleri is now being used by “forward-leaning health systems, employers, and physician practices”.
- CancerHacker Lab brings together a “diverse crowd of patients, diagnosticians, molecular biologists, bioinformaticians, researchers, and physicians”. Their “hackathon and health learning system” aims to help patients with advanced prostate cancers make “complex testing and treatment decisions”.
- The community offers a range of services, from answers and a consumer’s guide to testing, to a learning system for future patients.
- They also collaborate with review boards at hospitals and research centres to share “experience, insights, and outcomes”.
- Promaxo’s MRI and MRI-guided ecosytem comprises “imaging, robotics, and AI”. They are all being designed to “optimise healthcare system performance” and accelerate the achievement of the Cancer Moonshot goals.
- In-office MRI-guided biopsies offer a “clinically superior diagnostic yield” compared to the current standard of care.
- Furthermore, the technology “breaks down the barrier of high capital and operational expenses”.
- With the use of “visual elements like charts, graphs, and maps, data visualisation tools” offer a more accessible way of seeing and understanding “trends, outliers, and patterns in data”.
- In oncology, the “ability to generate effective visualisations on aggregate data” is a “powerful tool”.
- Veranex is experienced in creating these visualisations for their sponsors.
The Jackson Laboratory
- At a Sacramento-based campus, scientists are creating “mouse-based experimental platforms” that will enable researchers to “simultaneously evaluate both the safety and efficacy of a given treatment”.
- Working with immune-deficient mice to develop tests for drug treatments, the researchers hope to use a “specific patient’s immune cells and the genetic profile of their tumour”.
- Protagonist Therapeutics is a drug innovation company on a journey to “fulfil unmet needs of patients with cancer” by tackling polycythemia vera (PV).
- PV causes excess red blood cell production and can lead to fatal thrombotic events.
- In 2022 Protagonist is conducting a 250-patient Phase III registrational study for PV, following the discovery of Rusfertide. This is a “novel mimetic of the natural hormone hepcidin”.
- Developing on the success of “transient conjugation” (TransCon) technologies, Ascendis is “pursuing its vision to create best-in-class therapies in oncology”.
- TransCon refers to the company’s ability to temporarily ‘link an inert carrier to a parent drug with known biology” for “realease in the body over time”.
- TransCon molecules have 3 components: an “unmodified parent drug with known biology”, the “inert carrier that protects it”, and a “linker”, which temporarily binds the two together.
Bristol Myers Squibb
- BMS has been engaging in several collaborations to advance progress against cancer since 2016. These include a partnership with the Nation Cancer Institute (NCI) and more than 20 drug and biotechnology companies to “expedite researchers’ access to investigational and approved medicines”.
- At R&D sites in San Diego and the Bay Area, BMS is “investigating novel ways to enhance and restore the body’s ability to fight cancer”.
- BMS also announced in 2020 its $150 million investment over 5 years. This will “accelerate 5 inclusion and diversity and health equity commitments”.
- Prosetta Biosciences have been working to “develop small molecules which modulate protein assembly”.
- These molecules have been identified through their screens, including their “anticancer compound PAV-951″.
- When screened in the Eurofins OncoPanel for anticancer activity, PAV-951 was “found to have dose-dependent tumour cytotoxicity in 15 different human cancer cell lines”.
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