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The Cancer Letter Inc.
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publication date: Apr 8, 2016

 Jacks, Jaffee, Singer Named Co-Chairs of NCI’s Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel 


By Matthew Bin Han Ong

NCI announced a panel of advisors to inform the scientific direction and goals of Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

The 28-member Blue Ribbon Panel, a committee of scientific experts, cancer leaders, and patient advocates, will serve as the working group of the National Cancer Advisory Board and provide scientific guidance from opinion leaders in the cancer community.

The panel’s three co-chairs are:

• Tyler Jacks, chair of the National Cancer Advisory Board, and director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

• Elizabeth Jaffee, professor and deputy director for translational research at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University.

• Dinah Singer, acting deputy director of NCI and director of the Division of Cancer Biology.

“This Blue Ribbon Panel will ensure that, as NIH allocates new resources through the Moonshot, decisions will be grounded in the best science,” Biden said in a statement April 4. “I look forward to working with this panel and many others involved with the Moonshot to make unprecedented improvements in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.”

Over the next several months, the panel will draw plans to advance the following themes: development of cancer vaccines, highly sensitive approaches to early detection, advances in immunotherapy and combination therapies, single-cell genomic profiling of cancer cells and cells in the tumor microenvironment, enhanced data sharing, and new approaches to the treatment of pediatric cancers.

“Thanks to advances in science, we are now in a historically unique position to make profound improvements in the way we treat, detect, and prevent cancer,” said NIH Director Francis Collins. “The vice president’s deep personal commitment to this noble cause will make a tremendous difference in our ability to lift the terrible burden of cancer. His call to action, including the establishment of this panel, comes at just the right time for all the right reasons.”

The panel’s findings will be reported to NCAB, which in turn will make recommendations to NCI.

“The vice president’s enthusiasm about this effort is welcomed by the community of researchers, health professionals, and patients who share his passion and belief that great things are possible by accelerating cancer research with leadership and resources,” said NCI Acting Director Douglas Lowy. “We are committed to breaking down silos and stimulating the groundbreaking work already underway. To be successful, we must hear a broad range of perspectives to take full advantage of the exceptional current opportunities in cancer research.”

NCAB is expected to deliver its recommendations—based on the panel’s advice—to Lowy later this summer. A final report by the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, chaired by Biden, will be produced and delivered to President Barack Obama by Dec. 31.



Revolutionizing Data Sharing

In “Aiming High—Changing the Trajectory for Cancer” published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Lowy and Collins said that the moonshot will focus on aligning the goals of government, industry, academic, philanthropy, and patient groups.

“Data and technology innovators will help to revolutionize the ways in which cancer-related data are shared and used to achieve new breakthroughs, and the federal government may seek ways to facilitate data sharing among researchers who are currently reluctant to disseminate their data and results,” Lowy and Collins wrote. “The NCI’s Cancer Genomic Data Commons and Cancer Genomics Cloud Pilots are both examining new methods to facilitate sharing of data, novel algorithms, software, tools, and annotations, and they provide ways of measuring the impact of such sharing.” 

The moonshot, announced by Obama Jan. 12, aims to double the progress of cancer research over the next five years—primarily by breaking down data siloes and facilitating the creation of a central bioinformatics database for oncology (The Cancer Letter, Jan. 22).

The administration’s $1 billion proposal establishes a game plan for how the funds will be spent: the moonshot initiative will begin with $195 million in cancer research at NIH in fiscal 2016, according to the White House. 

Though initial funding is relatively modest by comparison with the overall federal spending on biomedical research, the moonshot is shaping up as a broad-based research and public health initiative. 

The FY2017 budget proposes to allocate $755 million in mandatory funds for new cancer-related research activities—$680 million for NIH and $75 million for FDA. The remaining $50 million is expected to fund Centers of Excellence in the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

NCI’s preparations for the moonshot dollars were the subject of last week’s meeting of its Board of Scientific Advisors (The Cancer Letter, April 1).

The Blue Ribbon Panel members represent a spectrum of scientific areas, including biology, immunology, genomics, diagnostics, bioinformatics, and cancer prevention and treatment. Scientific members also include investigators with expertise in clinical trials and cancer health disparities. Members of cancer advocacy groups and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies will be represented on the panel and its working groups.

To meet its milestones, the panel will begin its work immediately, convening its first meeting in the coming weeks. The panel will also consider public comments over the next several months prior to making its recommendations. 

Members of the research community and the public can engage in the initiative initially by subscribing to updates on the initiative’s main website or by emailing the panel at In addition, an online forum for submitting scientific ideas and comments to the panel will be available on the site in the coming weeks.


The remaining members of the panel are: 


Peter Adamson, professor and director of Experimental Therapeutics in Oncology at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

James Allison, professor and chair of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center

David Arons, CEO of the National Brain Tumor Society

Mary Beckerle, CEO and director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute

Mitch Berger, professor and chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco

Jeff Bluestone, executive vice chancellor and provost of University of California, San Francisco

Mikael Dolsten, president of Pfizer Worldwide Research and Development and executive vice president of Pfizer Inc.

James Downing, president and CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Levi Garraway, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and assistant professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute,

Gad Getz, director of the Cancer Genome Computational Analysis Group at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Laurie Glimcher, professor of medicine and dean of the Weill Cornell Medical College, and incoming president and CEO of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Lifang Hou, associate professor of preventive medicine at the Northwestern University Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center

Neal Kassell, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Virginia

Maria Elena Martinez, professor of family medicine and public health at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center

Deborah Mayer, professor of adult and geriatric health at the University of North Carolina School of Nursing, and director of cancer survivorship at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

Edith Mitchell, professor of medical oncology and associate director for diversity services at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Augusto Ochoa, professor of pediatrics and director of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center at Louisiana State University

Jennifer Pietenpol, professor of oncology and biochemistry and director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center

Angel Pizarro, technical business development manager at Amazon Web Services Scientific Computing and Research Computing

Barbara Rimer, alumni distinguished professor and dean of the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health

Charles Sawyers, chair of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Ellen Sigal, founder and chair of Friends of Cancer Research

Patrick Soon-Shiong, founder, chair, and CEO of NantWorks LLC

Chi Van Dang, professor of medicine and director of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, professor of neuro-oncology and chair of clinical cancer care at MD Anderson Cancer Center

Copyright (c) 2016 The Cancer Letter Inc.