Cancer Moonshot Expert Panel, Including UCSF Researchers, Delivers 10 Recommendations

By Mike Billings

Ten recommendations from a Blue Ribbon Panel of scientific experts, cancer leaders and patient advocates – including two UC San Francisco researchers – have been approved to help guide the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

Portrait of Mitchel Berger
Mitchel Berger, MD

UCSF researchers Mitchel Berger, MD, and Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD, were among 28 members of the panel who contributed the 10 recommendations that were approved Wednesday by the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) and Douglas Lowy, MD, the acting director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The panel’s recommendations are a step toward the final recommendations that the Cancer Moonshot Task Force will produce and deliver to President Barack Obama by December 2016. 

"The bold but feasible cross-cutting initiatives in this report will improve outcomes for patients with cancer, prevent cancer and increase our understanding of cancer," Lowy said in a press release. "NCI stands ready to accelerate cancer research in the critical areas identified by the Blue Ribbon Panel."

Portrait of Jeffrey Bluestone
Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD

Recommendations Span the Spectrum

The panel broke into working groups to concentrate on opportunities in seven areas: clinical trials, enhanced data sharing, cancer immunology, implementation science, pediatric cancer, precision prevention and early detection, and tumor evolution and progression.

Those working groups then produced the following recommendations:

  • Network for direct patient engagement
  • Cancer immunotherapy clinical trials network
  • Therapeutic target identification to overcome drug resistance
  • A national cancer data ecosystem for sharing and analysis
  • Fusion oncoproteins in pediatric cancer
  • Symptom management research
  • Prevention and early detection: implementation of evidence-based approaches
  • Retrospective analysis of biospecimens from patients treated with standard of care
  • Generation of human tumor atlases
  • Development of new enabling cancer technologies

"The goal is to focus investigators into these areas because this is where we feel we can make huge progress in the next five years as opposed to the next 10 years," Berger said.

Mitchel Berger talks about the panel recommendation for retrospective analysis of biospecimens from patients treated with standard of care.

In addition to the 10 scientific approaches that the Blue Ribbon Panel recommended, there are additional special projects. These include a demonstration project to test for Lynch syndrome, a heritable genetic condition that increases risk of several types of cancer, to improve early detection and prevention; the establishment of a nationwide pediatric immunotherapy clinical trials network to enhance the speed with which new immunotherapies can be tested in children; exploring patient-derived organoids; and “microdosing” devices to test drug responses in living tumors.

“It feels like exactly the right time to be launching a big new push against cancer," said Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS, president of UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. "The report of the Blue Ribbon Panel is bold and imaginative and, if properly funded and implemented, will allow major progress in a considerably accelerated time frame."

UCSF's Role in the Cancer Moonshot Initiative

The recommendations are UCSF’s latest involvement in the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

UCSF hosted Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, PhD, on Feb. 27 as part of a national "listening tour" they launched to better understand the state of cancer research and care. The following month, Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, and other top UCSF leaders met with the vice president’s staff in Washington, D.C., to follow up on a number of issues the vice president raised during his campus visit. In June, three UCSF faculty members participated in the White House Cancer Moonshot Summit, at which the University of California committed to a new transformative model for health care delivery for breast cancer patients.

Joe Biden speaks at a panel at UCSF during his visit in February
Vice President Joe Biden (center), visited UCSF in February as part of his National Cancer Moonshot initiative. From left to right: Mignon Loh, MD; Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS; Joe Biden; Jill Biden, PhD; and UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. Photo by Noah Berger

As members of the Blue Ribbon Panel, Bluestone and Berger provided strong research and clinical knowledge.

Bluestone’s lab at UCSF was the first to show that CTLA-4, a receptor on the immune system’s T cells that acts as a brake on the immune response. That work, which was done to better understand CTLA-4's potential role in preventing organ rejection after transplant and autoimmune disease, paved the way for current cancer immunotherapy applications. In April, Bluestone was named head of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, a $250 million initiative launched by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sean Parker to accelerate the development and delivery of breakthrough immunotherapies.

Berger, chair of neurosurgery at UCSF, consulted on the brain cancer case of Biden's eldest son, the late Beau Biden. Berger's clinical work includes the treatment of brain tumors in adults and children as well as epilepsy that is related to brain tumors. His research includes identifying molecular markers in gliomas as correlates of tumor progression and prognosis.

"It was an honor to represent my specialty of neuro-oncology and neurosurgery and it was an honor to represent UCSF as one of the 28 panelists," said Berger, who also was one of three panelists selected to address the vice president about the group's work.

Ashworth said UCSF’s depth of expertise and innovation as a leading cancer center put it in a strong position to help implement the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative. "We are committed to engaging with and supporting this new initiative’s efforts."

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