Today the Biden administration announced a re-launch of the “Cancer Moonshot” initiative. Initially activated in 2016, during the Obama administration, the updated program aims to decrease the age-adjusted death rate from cancer by 50% in 25 years and to vastly improve the experience of patients as they navigate cancer.
Key goals include an emphasis on: ensuring people get recommended cancer screenings that have been missed due to the COVID-19 pandemic; understanding why some treatments work for some patients, but not others; and, developing new and better ways to detect and prevent cancer.
The Biden administration sought out Brian Druker, M.D., director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, to garner his perspective on the future of cancer care and research. His thoughts helped shaped the agenda and focus of the updated Moonshot program.
“Cancer treatment has evolved to become more precise and less toxic, and we’ve seen great success with some targeted therapies,” says Druker. “But without better, earlier detection, the promise of precision cancer medicine cannot be realized. The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute is in full support of President Biden’s efforts to end cancer as we know it, and we are poised to help lead the way.”
Druker says the Knight Cancer Institute’s efforts in the areas of cancer early detection, precision medicine and community relations “align well” with the goals laid out today by the Biden administration:
Catching cancer early — Following the successful completion of a $1 billion fundraising challenge made possible by Phil and Penny Knight, the Knight Cancer Institute has prioritized the urgent issue of early cancer detection. The institute formed CEDAR (Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research Center), the first large-scale early cancer detection program of its kind. CEDAR’s goal is to detect and stop lethal cancers at the earliest stage — because early detection saves lives.
In 2019, the Knight Cancer Institute and CEDAR signed on to the International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection, or ACED. The ACED alliance was formed by the coordinated efforts of Cancer Research UK, Canary Center at Stanford University, the University of Cambridge, University College London and the University of Manchester, to develop radical new strategies and technologies to detect cancer at its earliest stage.
In 2020, the Knight Cancer Institute was one of five sites across the country selected by GRAIL, Inc. to join a study designed to improve early detection of cancer. The Pathfinder study evaluated the implementation into clinical practice for the first time an investigational early detection test designed to test many types of cancer through a single blood draw. The Knight Cancer Institute enrolled the most participants of any site in the first iteration of the study and is now helping lead the Pathfinder 2 study.
“Too many patients die or have to suffer through debilitating treatments because their disease is caught too late. And too few physicians and scientists are focused on this problem in a meaningful way,” Druker said. “The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute has been an international leader in the field, and we remain committed to tackling this incredibly important issue.”
Studying tumors in great detail — Researchers at the Knight Cancer Institute have built a new kind of clinical trials platform to find combinations of drugs to use, like a one-two punch, to stop tumors before they can adapt and
become drug-resistant. Their goal is to make treatment more effective, long-lasting and tolerable for people with cancer. The platform, called SMMART, or Serial Measurements of Molecular and Architectural Responses to Therapy, makes it possible to study each person’s tumor in great detail, track how cancer cells evolve in response to treatment, and use the information to select combinations of drugs tailored for the individual.
Serving the community — In 2015, the Knight Cancer Institute founded its Community Partnership Program to provide grants and other resources to community-led projects addressing cancer prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship. The program supports the development of sustainable collaborations with Oregon communities to address community-identified cancer needs, including disparities of access to care. The program has invested more than $4.3 million directly to 164 community-based projects throughout Oregon.
The Knight Cancer Institute is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center between Sacramento and Seattle — an honor earned only by the nation’s top cancer centers. It offers the latest treatments and technologies as well as hundreds of research studies and clinical trials.
OHSU is the only academic health center in Oregon and is nationally distinguished as a research university dedicated solely to advancing health sciences. This singular purpose allows us to focus on discoveries that prevent and cure disease, on education that prepares physicians, dentists, nurses and other health professionals for the evolving health care environment, and on patient care that incorporates the latest advances. Based in Portland, we are one of Oregon’s largest employers, operate the top-ranked adult and children’s hospitals in the state, and secure competitive research funding of nearly $590 million. As a public organization, we also provide services for the most vulnerable Oregonians and outreach to improve health in communities across the state.