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Making the #CancerMoonshot a reality – starting with a conversation

Watch leading researchers talk about how to accelerate cancer care

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Panelists and moderators (left to right): Ellen Beckjord, PhD, MPH; David K. Ahern, PhD; Ana Batista, PhD (moderator); Mark R. Kelley, PhD; Justin Durla Lathia, PhD; Bradford W. Hesse, PhD; Huiping Liu, MD, PhD, and Rafael Teixeira (moderator). Photo by Lisa Eppich

More than 100 cancer researchers, clinicians and industry specialists gathered in Boston November 16 to try to dissect the tall order laid before us in early 2016: the president’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. Although this program has reenergized the biomedical community to make even greater strides against this complex disease over the next five years, questions remain: now that we know where we want to be by 2020, how do we actually get there?

The answer is, by and large, through collaboration. And that’s exactly what Elsevier’s event The Next Giant Leap: Making the Cancer Moonshot a Reality sought to foster. To understand the priorities of the Cancer Moonshot as thoroughly as possible and strategize how best to move forward, we held a panel discussion in November featuring seven experts who approach cancer research or patient care from different perspectives.


Watch a video of the event


This breadth of opinion allowed us to identify the larger roadblocks preventing the acceleration of care as well as more specific problems that may affect just a few research areas or patient populations yet still requires attention to achieve the larger Moonshot goals. In addition, our wide-ranging discussion, which covered clinical trials, drug pricing, cancer atlases and other important areas, enabled us to cover a lot of ground in a short time while still identifying areas we need to channel our efforts into most.

For example, survivorship isn’t an area explicitly mentioned in the Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations. But as Dr. Ellen Beckjord of UMPC Health Plan reminded the panel and audience, there are now more cancer survivors and people living with cancer long-term than ever before, and research is likely to make survivorship a reality for even more patients and more types of cancer. Therefore, there needs to be more support structures in place to deal with the unique medical and emotional needs of these patients.

This sparked a conversation about the importance of primary prevention and early detection, and empowering patients to participate in their own care and health decisions. The panel also discussed how to improve the existing e-health infrastructure, and strategized ways to reduce the regulatory burden on patients and caretakers. In addition, clinical trials permeated nearly every conversation, from controlling costs to data-sharing. Dr. Justin Lathia of the Cleveland Clinic noted that we need to think about expanding the breadth of information we get from trials. Several panelists also suggested we could take a lesson from companies like Uber and find a way for patients to “ride share” appointments to reduce the cost of treatment, as it may be cheaper to treat multiple patients at the same time.

The panel discussion was supplemented by two brief presentations: one by Dr. Brad Fenwick, Senior VP of Global Strategic Alliances at Elsevier, on Elsevier’s Cancer Benchmark Report, and another from Dr. David Ahern of the National Cancer Institute, Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and Dr. Brad Hesse of the National Cancer Institute on the recently-released report for the President’s Cancer Panel: Improving Cancer-Related Outcomes with Connected Health.

After the panel, Prof. William Kaelin Jr. of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute gave an engaging keynote speech about the importance of approaching published research with a critical eye. Then he challenged the audience to think about whether the word “moonshot” is the most appropriate word for the cancer initiative.

The positive, forward-thinking energy of the event seemed to resonate strongly with the audience, who came from Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Boston University and other institutions in the Boston area. After a spirited question-and-answer session, several audience members said they were pleasantly surprised to see so many different perspectives represented and that they felt energized to collaborate more effectively in their own research. This sentiment was echoed by the panelists: As Dr. Ahern remarked after the event, “It isn’t often that we have the opportunity to collaborate with such a diverse group of professionals.” And Dr. Hesse said, “I came away with some expanded spheres of thought and learned much from all (of the panelists).”

The final takeaway from the panel was an acknowledgement that due to the change in presidential administrations, the future of the Cancer Moonshot itself is uncertain. Yet not one person was willing to let this hamper the work left to be done. Whether it’s under the Cancer Moonshot title or another name, research will continue for the benefit of all humankind, and we will get there one conversation at a time.

The panelists

David K. Ahern, PhD, Special Advisor, HCIRB, HDRP, National Cancer Institute, Director, Program in Behavioral Informatics and eHealth, Department of Psychiatry, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School, Boston

Bradford W. Hesse, PhD, Chief of the NCI’s Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch, Behavioral Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Maryland

Ellen Beckjord, PhD, MPH, Director, Population Health Program Design and Engagement Optimization, UPMC Health Plan, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Mark Kelley, PhD, Betty and Earl Herr Professor in Pediatric Oncology Research Associate Director, Herman B. Wells Center for Pediatric Research, Associate Director of Basic Science Research, IU Simon Cancer Center, Director, Program in Pediatric Molecular Oncology & Experimental Therapeutics, Co-Director, Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana

Huiping Liu, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA; Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago

Justin Durla Lathia, PhD, Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Cleveland

Michael Birrer, MD, PhD, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Director of Medical Gynecologic Oncology, the Gynecologic Oncology Research Program, and the Gillette Center for Gynecologic Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

The moderators

Ana Batista, PhD, is Editor of Trends in Cancer, published by Elsevier’s Cell Press.

Rafael Teixeira is Acquisitions Editor for scientific book publishing at Elsevier in the areas of Cancer Research, Medical Informatics, Oncology, Systems Biology, Synthetic Biology and Biostatistics

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