How To Achieve Quantum Leaps In Cancer Research And Treatment

We are very pleased that President Obama called for a new national initiative in cancer research, to be led by Vice President Joe Biden. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, Mr. Biden said he’s looking for “quantum leaps” in our understanding of cancer and how to treat it. With a focused, concentrated national commitment to collaborative and patient-oriented research, we can change cancer as we know it.

We have worked together for the past eight years, as a scientist and as an advocate, in the initiative called Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C). More than 100 top cancer scientists are meeting this week at an SU2C Scientific Summit organized by our scientific partner, the American Association for Cancer Research. These include members of SU2C-funded “Dream Teams” and recipients of individual research grants, all devoted to solving key problems in cancer research, as well as patient advocates who bring the perspectives of those affected by cancer to the scientists’ work. They will report their latest findings and discuss them with their fellow scientists – a perfect example of the information-sharing that Mr. Biden has correctly described as critical to progress.

We can identify with the Vice President’s call to break down the silos that often impede scientific research, because that is exactly what we do through SU2C. Collaboration among scientists – across institutional lines and even disciplinary boundaries – is a key part of the SU2C program. So is access to information, another major objective set by Vice President Biden. Mr. Biden has spoken of the importance of collaboration. We agree – collaboration is critical.

We know this approach works. Since its inception in 2008, SU2C and its foundation partners have launched 18 “Dream Teams,” each consisting of both clinical and discovery researchers from at least six different institutes, comprising more than 1,100 scientists at 131 major institutions across the United States and in Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and other countries as well. They have been involved in more than 160 planned, launched, or completed clinical trials, primarily with drugs or agents donated by private companies, in which more than 7,500 patients have participated. SU2C’s funds come from major donors and the public alike.

The program is guided by a blue-ribbon Scientific Advisory Committee of world-renowned physician-scientists and researchers. The focus is on “translational” research but with the important requirement that discovery research is part of the team’s work. This rapidly moves new insights about potential treatments out of the laboratory and to the patient bedside in a few short years. That’s an ambitious goal, but SU2C is fulfilling that promise.

The most important thing about collaboration is that it unquestionably saves lives.

The life of Nik Demoreas, for example. Nik is a Florida boy who developed leukemia. In 90 percent of such cases, chemotherapy brings about lasting remission. In his case, it failed, and there seemed to be little hope. But Nik entered a clinical trial funded in part by Stand Up To Cancer and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, testing a T-cell therapy that uses the body’s own immune system to attack the cancer. It worked. Nik is fine today, and the scientists at several institutions who worked together to develop T cell therapy are continuing to refine it. The outlook for relapsed leukemia has profoundly changed.

Our Dream Teams’ research has also helped win approval for a new combination of drugs for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer and a new drug for breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Dream Teams are using next-generation genetic sequencing to profile individual patients’ prostate cancers, helping guide personalized approaches to treatment. Another team developed a rapid genetic profiling of melanoma and is using it to match drugs to individual tumors based on their genetic characteristics -an example of “precision” medicine.

Scientists supported by SU2C are making strides in drug development, technology, precision medicine, immunotherapy, early detection, overcoming resistance to therapies, and other key topics in cancer research and treatment. These funds have leveraged commitments from biotech and pharmaceutical companies by integrating the newest technology to research the question of why patients vary in responses and how to use combinations or new protocols to enhance responses. The patient benefits, science advances and new treatments emerge.

We welcome the Obama-Biden commitment to strengthening the federal investment in cancer research, prevention, and treatment. Collaboration between institutes and scientists is key. Not all cancers can be prevented or cured, but we hope that someday all will be treatable or manageable. That would be a quantum leap. We look forward to working with this new national initiative to get that job done.

To read this entire article, published by HuffPost Science on January 27, 2016, click here.

Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis: Ultrasound May Better Detect Malignant Adnexal Masses Than MRI

Ovarian cancer is one of the gynecologic cancers that are considered lethal, unless it’s caught and treated in its early stages. Early detection and treatment are contingent upon health care providers being able to “preoperatively characterize” the nature of an ovarian tumor, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology — for this, they suggest ultrasound examination.

The study analyzed the International Ovarian Tumor Analysis group’s Simple Rules, which are based on a set of ultrasound features indicative of both benign and malignant tumors, and have been well-received by clinicians and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the UK. Separate studies have validated the Simple Rules, finding it applicable in 77 to 94 percent of tumors. And overall, the rules are considered superior to all other methods, study authors wrote. But that’s not to say the rules are without its limitations.

“Despite a combination of simplicity and excellent performance, important limitations of the Simple Rules are the inconclusive results in a proportion of cases and the absence of an estimated risk of malignancy,” they wrote in the study. “The ability to provide accurate risk estimates is highly relevant for risk stratification and individual patient management. The objective of his study was to develop and validate a model to calculate the risk of malignancy in adnexal masses based on the ten ultrasound features in the Simple Rules.”

To do this, the authors conducted an international multicenter cross-sectional study involving approximately 5,000 patients from 22 oncology centers and other hospitals, with at least one adnexal mass (tumor) selected by surgery by the managing clinician. Data was collected through consecutive phases between 1999 2012, including patient results from standardized transvaginal ultrasound and transabdominal sonography (for women with large masses that could not be seen otherwise). The study authors then applied the Simple Rules based on certain variables, such as the diameters of the lesion, the diameters of the largest solid component, and the type of tumor.

The malignancy rate was 34 percent overall, study authors found; 43 percent in oncology centers and 17 percent in other centers. Results also revealed the median age of patients with a benign tumor was 42 years old, while the median age for patients with a malignant tumor was 57.

“The Simple Rules are intuitively attractive because of their ease of use,” the authors wrote. “However, when used as originally suggested they allow only a categorization of tumors into three groups: benign, malignant or inconclusive. In this study, we show that the Simple Rulescan also be used to estimate the risk of malignancy in every adnexal mass and so can be used for individualized patient management.”

The authors mention the type of center patients visit has to be included in overall risk estimation, “because the risk of a malignant tumor is higher in oncology centers than in others.”

While imaging is vital to identifying potentially malignant tumors, Dr. Beryl Benacerraf, president of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) and clinical professor of radiology and OB GYN at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, explained in an accompanying editorial that it’s been difficult to find an ultrasound algorithm that works as sufficiently as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). But, he said, the present study successfully takes this complex problem and simplifies it, demonstrating ultrasound can better identify tumors than MRI.

“The investigators have finally been able to level and elevate the playing field so that everybody can practice with expert results in this regard,” Benacerraf said. “Not only have the five simple rules demonstrated that you don’t have to be an expert to evaluate ovarian masses accurately, but that one can do so simply, reproducibly and reliably.”

There’s no way to prevent ovarian cancer, accordin to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, further emphasizing the importance of early detection and treatment. Past research has suggested women can reduce risk through healthy diet and increase survival rates with certain medication, but for the most part, the CDC recommends women pay attention to their body and immediately see a doctor when they noticed abnormal changes. Signs and symptoms include pelvic and abomdinal pain, back pain, being tired all the time, bloating, and any change in bathroom habits, such as frequent urination and abnormal vaginal discharge.

Study authors hope their findings help oncology and health centers better facilitate choosing the optimal treatment for all patients presenting with ovarian tumors.

To read this entire article by the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology on Medical Daily, click here.

Illumina Makes Big Push In Cancer Screening

San Diego-based Illumina said Sunday that it’s embarking on a huge, years-long attempt to develop a simple blood test that can detect many types of cancer before a person begins to show signs of the disease.

Most of the work will be done through Grail, a new spin-off company that aims to create “liquid biopsies” that screen blood samples for potentially harmful bits of mutated DNA shed by tumors. Grail plans to use Illumina’s market-leading DNA sequencing machines to identify and study those mutations.

Illumina said it has lined up more than $100 million in investment money for Grail, which will be located in San Francisco. The financial backers include Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Bezos Expeditions, a venture fund created by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

Jay Flatley, chief executive of Illumina, said Sunday that Grail also intends to launch large-scale clinical trials to evaluate its blood test, an effort that would likely take years and involve hundreds of thousands of patients.

“We expect (that) successful development of a pan-cancer screening test will have a massive impact on global cancer mortality,” Flatley said.

Such a test would be known as the “holy grail” of oncology, Illumina said. Cancer kills about 565,000 Americans each year.

Indeed, a growing number of companies have joined the pursuit of this breakthrough — particularly those in San Diego, one of the nation’s largest life-science hubs. Biocept, Epic Sciences, Trovagene and Pathway Genomics are some of the local businesses working on various types of liquid biopsies.

“We’re all fitting into different spots; this is an emerging area,” said Mike Nall, president and CEO of Biocept, which uses its liquid biopsy to determine whether patients who have already been diagnosed with cancer might respond to a certain therapy.

“Illumina is much more focused on screening, which is pretty exciting for the whole industry,” Nall added. “It will give credence to the idea that genetic mutations found in liquid biopsies can be used in clinical decision-making.”

Biocept’s board members include Ivor Royston, a La Jolla oncologist who co-founded San Diego County’s first biotech company in the 1980s.

“Aberrant DNA does get shed by tumors. We know that,” he said Sunday. “But just finding it might not be enough; it might get shut down by a person’s immune system and never cause a problem. But I do believe that, in the future, there will be early-detection tests for patients with high risk” of getting certain cancers.

Royston added that he’ll be interested to see how things play out with Grail.

“They have a very good group of investors,” he said. “Illumina is looking for additional applications for their technology. I would not have predicted that they would have gotten involved in this so early on.”

For decades now, tissue biopsies have been used to search for tumors and track their growth. Scientists and physicians describe it as a highly intrusive approach that sometimes can cause more harm than good.

Such biopsies also can fail to reveal all the ways in which DNA has mutated. In turn, that makes it difficult or impossible for doctors to provide patients with the precise drugs or therapies they need.

The liquid-biopsy technology arose just over two years ago, building on the discovery that tumors and even cancerous cells can send their genetic material into a person’s bloodstream. Another key impetus: major advances in identifying, profiling and analyzing genes, especially ones that mutate into cancer.

Today, the rapidly growing field’s estimated value has climbed to $100 million; analysts said it could vault to $12 billion within a decade if the envisioned potential becomes reality.

Reaching that milestone level of success would require showing that liquid biopsies are at least as accurate, if not more, than tissue biopsies. It also would involve proving that the new technology leads to a reduction in pain, more customized care and, ultimately, greater survival rates for patients.

As it stands now, the basic description of a liquid biopsy is that health care providers draw a small amount of blood and examine it with an assortment of highly sensitive, specialized diagnostic tools.

Mostly, they look for intact tumor cells that circulate throughout the blood stream or pieces of DNA thrown out by tumors. They may also search for tumor DNA in urine samples.

To read this entire article, published by The San Diego – Union Tribune, click here.

Study Quantifies Faulty Gene’s Role in Ovarian Cancer Risk

Women who carry an inherited fault in the BRIP1 gene are three times more likely to develop ovarian cancer than those without it, researchers said Tuesday.
The gene variant had already been linked to cancer of the ovaries, but the size of the additional risk has now been quantified in a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
“Around 18 women in every 1,000 develop ovarian cancer, but this risk increases to around 58 women in every 1,000 for women with a fault in the BRIP1 gene,” said a statement from Cancer Research UK, whose researchers led the research.
The fault inhibited tissue cells from properly repairing their own DNA, causing genetic damage to build up over time, and leading to cancer, said the team.
The rare but deadly disease, with few early symptoms, is often diagnosed at a very advanced stage, hence its reputation as a silent killer. About 60 percent of patients die within five years.
There is no standard or routine test for early detection of ovarian cancer—a process known as “screening” to boost survival chances by allowing for treatment to begin as soon as possible after disease onset.
The study compared the genes of over 8,000 European women—including a group diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a healthy group, and a third with a family history of the disease.
They found that women who carried the BRIP1 mutation were more likely to be diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, at a later stage and at an older age.
“Our work has found a valuable piece of the puzzle behind ovarian cancer and we hope that our work could eventually form the basis of a genetic test to identify women at greatest risk,” said Paul Pharaoh, a cancer epidemiology professor at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.
“Finding these women will help us prevent more cancers and save lives. This would be important in a disease like ovarian cancer, which tends to be diagnosed at a later stage when the chances of survival are worse.”
Women with a mutation on the BRCA1 gene, for example, carry a very high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Those diagnosed with the variant is found, can opt to surgically remove their breasts and ovaries in order to lower their risk.
Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer in women worldwide, with 239,000 new cases diagnosed in 2012, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International.
To read the entire study on Drug Discovery & Development, click here.

Genetic Heterogeneity After First-Line Chemotherapy In High-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer

Background

Most high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma (HGSOC) patients benefit from first-line platinum-based chemotherapy, but progressively develop resistance during subsequent lines. Re-activating BRCA1 or MDR1mutations can underlie platinum resistance in end-stage patients. However, little is known about resistance mechanisms occurring after a single line of platinum, when patients still qualify for other treatments.

Methods

In 31 patients with primary platinum-sensitive HGSOC, we profiled tumours collected during debulking surgery before and after first-line chemotherapy using whole-exome sequencing and single nucleotide polymorphism profiling.

Results

Besides germline BRCA1/2 mutations, we observed frequent loss-of-heterozygosity in homologous recombination (HR) genes and mutation spectra characteristic of HR-deficiency in all tumours. At relapse, tumours differed considerably from their primary counterparts. There was, however, no evidence of events reactivating the HR pathway, also not in tumours resistant to second-line platinum. Instead, a platinum score of 13 copy number regions, among other genes including MECOM, CCNE1 and ERBB2, correlated with platinum-free interval (PFI) after first-line therapy, whereas an increase of this score in recurrent tumours predicted the change in PFI during subsequent therapy.

Conclusions

Already after a single line of platinum, there is huge variability between primary and recurrent tumours, advocating that in HGSOC biopsies need to be collected at relapse to tailor treatment options to the underlying genetic profile. Nevertheless, all primary platinum-sensitive HGSOCs remained HR-deficient, irrespective of whether they became resistant to second-line platinum, further suggesting these tumours qualify for second-line Poly APD ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitor treatment. Finally, chromosomal instability contributes to acquired resistance after a single line of platinum therapy.

To read the entire article on European Journal Of Cancer, click here.

Another War On Cancer Really A ‘Moonshot?’

President Nixon declared war on cancer declared war on cancer in 1971. In his 2016 State of The Union Address, President Obama set a goal of curing cancer.

Nixon’s war on cancer produced major progress, but cancer is still with us. And there’s no reason to expect Obama’s goal of curing cancer can be eradicated in the foreseeable future.

Yet Obama’s endorsement of a “moonshot” plan proposed by Vice President Joe Biden resonated with biotech professionals who gathered in San Francisco last week for what amounts to the industry’s own State of the Union address.

Those gathered at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Biotech Showcase and other events taking place at the same time heard much the same message Biden had relayed: The time for incremental progress is over. With new tools from genomics, more precise drugs and a more sophisticated understanding of what cancer really is, it’s possible to pinpoint the molecular drivers of cancer, and to thwart them.

Cancer is an experiment in Darwinian evolution carried out by millions of cells in a single body. Those cells that have a reproductive advantage preferentially multiply over others. Sophisticated mechanisms evolved over millions of years to stop such proliferation, but they sometimes fail.

It’s arrogant to think that human beings can tip the balance in this evolutionary war of cells vs. the individual. But we have no choice but to try — our lives are at stake. And new tools, such as improved genomic sequencing technology from San Diego-based Illumina and better use of it by Human Longevity, also in San Diego, could make a major difference.

Illumina kicked things off early with a Sunday announcement of a major effort to detect many kinds cancer from a blood test, before symptoms arise. The work will be done through a spinoff, appropriately named Grail, to be located in San Francisco. Illumina says it has secured more than $100 million in financing for Grail.

Serendipity

President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971. In his 2016 State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama set a goal of curing cancer.

Nixon’s war on cancer produced major progress, but cancer is still with us. And there’s no reason to expect that Obama’s aim of eradicating the disease will be realized in the short-term future. Cancer comes in many forms — some are easily treatable, while others remain resistant despite all medical advances.

Yet Obama’s endorsement of a “moonshot” plan proposed by Vice President Joe Biden, whose eldest son died from brain cancer, resonated with biotech professionals who gathered in San Francisco last week for what amounts to the industry’s own State of the Union address.

Attendees of the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Biotech Showcase and other related events that took place in San Francisco heard much the same message Biden had relayed: The time for incremental progress is over.

Cancer is an experiment in Darwinian evolution carried out by millions of cells in a single body. Cells that have a reproductive advantage preferentially multiply over others. Sophisticated mechanisms have evolved over millions of years to stop such proliferation, but they sometimes fail.

It might be arrogant to think that human beings can tip the balance in this evolutionary war of cells vs. the individual. But with new tools from genomics, increasingly precise drugs and a more sophisticated understanding of what cancer really is, the prospects for success are better than they have ever been in history.

Cutting-edge tools make it possible to pinpoint the molecular drivers of many kinds of cancer — and to thwart them. Some of these new tools were announced at the latest biotech gatherings, such as improved genomic sequencing technology from San Diego-based Illumina and better use of it by Human Longevity, also located in San Diego.

Those announcements mesh with another new ambitious cancer project, this one directed by billionaire biotech entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong of Los Angeles. The project, called Cancer Moonshot 2020 (it’s not part of the Obama-Biden proposal), was unveiled Monday at the JP Morgan Conference. It focuses on helping the immune system battle cancer, a field that has mushroomed in recent years and yielded striking successes. More information is available at cancermoonshot2020.org.

In recent years, Soon-Shiong has been busy building a network of companies in Los Angeles and San Diego and securing alliances to fight cancer in many ways. One project is to build an ultra-fast Internet pathway to shuttle gigabytes of patients’ genomic data from the point of sequencing to doctors and hospitals and wherever else it’s needed.

Illumina kicked off the week with a Jan. 10 announcement of a major effort to detect many kinds cancer from a blood test — before symptoms arise. The work will be done through a spinoff company named Grail, to be located in San Francisco. Illumina said it has secured more than $100 million for Grail from partners such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a venture fund created by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com fame.

Grail is expected to begin operations in 2019; it will test patients’ blood samples provided by their doctors.

Serendipity And Need

On Tuesday, Human Longevity announced its own cancer diagnostic program, which will try to determine the genomics of tumors and of the patients the tumors arose from.

Human Longevity, headed by genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter, is also deploying technology to understand how the immune system’s T cells in the body behave, and to detect circulating tumor cells and free tumor DNA in the blood. Fore more information on the project, visit humanlongevity.com.

Venter said his program and Illumina’s aren’t competitive, and that Illumina is in fact an ally. Human Longevity buys DNA sequencers from Illumina, the world’s acknowledged leader in DNA sequencing.

Two years ago at the JP Morgan conference, Illumina announced that it had brought down the cost of sequencing a human genome to $1,000 (when processed in large batches). In comparison, sequencing the first human genome, a feat completed more than a decade ago, cost about $300 million.

Human Longevity’s new cancer program arose this year by chance, Venter said.

“We starting out trying to help a friend who had cancer,” he said. “And the (company’s) team developed a very comprehensive analysis that turned out to be second to none. When the oncologists saw it, they wanted more of it because it’s one of the early areas where genomics is starting to have an impact. And we just kept getting more and more requests. So it was not a planned product.”

Based on the analysis, the patient was recommended to receive a cancer drug that doctors had not considered. The drug was given, and the patient is now in complete remission, Venter said.

Traditionally, cancers have been treated with medications found through a trial-and-error approach. While those drugs are often effective, understanding just how they work isn’t entirely clear. And when cancers develop drug resistance, as they usually do, the next step is also hard to discern.

Routine genotyping of tumors, a technology that has been around for several years, can help. For example, the nonprofit Clearity Foundation in San Diego tests tumors in cases of relapsed ovarian cancer and helps find suitable drugs based on comparisons with hundreds of other tumors.

Human Longevity is offering even more tumor screening and characterization, for all cancers.

“We have a large team that spends a lot of late-night hours working on these cases to try and help people,” Venter said. “(It’s) extremely beneficial compared to everything else that’s out there.”

On a trial basis, Human Longevity is offering for $950 a sequencing of a patient’s exome — the part of DNA that codes for proteins — and an exome sequencing of the tumor itself. Clinical trials to test the diagnostic efficacy are being planned.

The question is whether this degree of analysis can be offered at a price Human Longevity can sustain. “If they work well and we can actually do it for that amount, we’ll offer it on a much larger scale,” Venter said.

Motivation Sources

Biotech leaders from Southern California said they welcome the focus on cancer by Obama and Biden.

But they personally don’t need any extra motivation — it’s what they do for a living, the executives said during a discussion in San Francisco last week. When one company is sold, biotech executives look for new niches to fill with more new companies. These include biotech veterans Bob Baltera, the former CEO of Laguna Pharmaceuticals in San Diego, and Faheem Hasnain, whose most recent company, San Diego’s Receptos, was sold last year for $7.2 billion.

“It’s a great thing to put a spotlight on (cancer),” Hasnain said.

“If what that means is if it actually puts more money, more interest, more time, more energy into the sector, that’s great,” he added. “But what it’s not going to change is the passion of the people working in this space. Quite frankly, this is what we think about day in and day out. A cancer moonshot really doesn’t affect us in terms of our motivation.”

The new war on cancer does offer opportunities to do things “on a fundamental level” to help people who concentrate on oncology, said Joe Panetta, president and CEO of Biocom, a San Diego-based life science trade group.

SBIR, or Small Business Innovation Research funding, is often used by Southern California biotech companies, Panetta said. These grants, often given through the National Institutes of Health, provide money to prove concepts and provide early technology development. This can accelerate the progress of technologies that otherwise would languish for lack of capital.

“If Joe Biden can influence some of his friends on the Hill to increase … NIH funding, it could have a tremendous impact on the funding that goes into these early stage companies that could potentially develop the next cancer therapeutic,” Panetta said.

Rounds Of Innovation

Hasnain could be leading one of those companies, depending on his next step after Receptos. The JP Morgan conference gives him a good place to scout for interesting new technologies that could give rise to a new company, he said.

Receptos was not a cancer company, but it did specialize in immunology, an expanding field of cancer therapies. Receptos developed a promising drug for the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis that prompted its purchase by biotech giant Celgene last summer.

“What’s really interesting to us now is trying to form another company in San Diego,” Hasnain said. “There’s so much talent, there’s so many great people. … When we say hunting for technologies, we mean looking for things that make a difference in people’s lives.”

Steve Mento, CEO of the liver therapeutics company Conatus in San Diego, said this region provides an exceptionally hospitable environment for biotech recidivists.

“The San Diego community in and by itself makes you want to come back and start all over again,” Mento said. “I’ve been there for 22 years. You couldn’t pry me out with a crowbar.”

This article was originally published on January 17, 2016 in the Union Tribune-San Diego. Click here to read it in its entirety.

NIH’s Big Cancer Database Coming Soon

Most experts believe that one important element of Vice President Biden’s cancer “moonshot” has to be a major database that researchers and clinicians can access to help them develop new therapies or treat patients.

Both the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Association for Cancer Research have launched such projects, as have some big academic cancer centers.

And Thursday, during a teleconference with reporters to discuss President Obama’s State of the Union call for a stepped-up war on cancer, the National Cancer Institute’s acting director, Douglas R. Lowy, stressed that his agency is nearing completion on an effort of its own.

Most experts believe that one important element of Vice President Biden’s cancer “moonshot” has to be a major database that researchers and clinicians can access to help them develop new therapies or treat patients.

Both the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Association for Cancer Research have launched such projects, as have some big academic cancer centers.

And Thursday, during a teleconference with reporters to discuss President Obama’s State of the Union call for a stepped-up war on cancer, the National Cancer Institute’s acting director, Douglas R. Lowy, stressed that his agency is nearing completion on an effort of its own.

When it launches this summer, the Genomic Data Commons will be able to hold data from as many as 50,000 patients and clinical trial participants, including genomic analysis of their cancers, the treatments used, their responses and outcomes, Lowy said. The information would come not just from NCI clinical trials but from other research as well.

Now that cancer is considered a disease of the genome, with at least hundreds of variations, access to information about common mutations and the efforts to fight them is considered critical for progress against the disease.

The NCI portal, which was announced in December 2014, will open with two big data sets containing information from the Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET) program and the Cancer Genome Atlas. More information would be added later.

Obama put Biden, whose son Beau died of cancer last year, in charge of the ramped-up work to find cures. Biden wrote in a post Tuesday night that he wants to seize the moment, with advances in immunotherapy, combination therapy and genomics having set the stage for such an intensified push. He already has met with more than 200 physicians, researchers and philanthropists in preparation for the effort and is scheduled to visit the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center Friday for a roundtable discussion about strategy.

During the media teleconference, NIH Director Francis S. Collins declined to say whether Obama will devote even more money to cancer programs in his upcoming budget, but he told reporters to “look closely and see what kind of resources are attached” when the plan comes out next month. The National Cancer Institute’s budget was increased by $260.5 million, to $5.21 billion, in the recently approved fiscal 2016 budget. About 70 percent of that funding goes for research.

Even without a moonshot, Collins noted, the United States has seen a 23 percent drop in cancer deaths over the past two decades. Five-year survival rates are up for many cancers.

But officials still estimate that 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with the disease in 2016. About 600,000 people will die of the disease this year.

The Clearity Foundation has kept such a database since 2008. We encourage others to sign up to change their odds and change the future by clicking here.

To read this entire article on The Washington Post, click here.